The New Testament and 4 Ezra

The Jewish Apocalypse of Ezra deals with the problem of the Jews in the post-70 world.  Has God abandoned his people?  This is extremely important for New Testament studies since the “Jewish problem” arises in nearly every context.  The New Testament passage which deals with this problem in the most detail is Romans 9-11. While Paul reaches a similar conclusion, he does so in a non-apocalyptic manner.  Paul is obviously writing well before the fall of Jerusalem, so this is not the “crisis” which has caused Paul to ask about the fate of the nation of Israel.  In Paul’s case the “crisis” is the resurrection of Jesus in general and more specifically his own calling to be the apostle to the Gentiles which raises the question of what happens to the Jews in the new era of “church.”

ApocryphalPaul deals with the problem much differently than 4 Ezra.  Rather than question God’s fairness or badger God with questions about his management of the universe, Paul grounds his understanding of Israel in the election of the nation to be the people of God and in the unalterable promises of God (9:1-21).  Even there, Paul is willing to accept that God makes some things for destruction, as objects of his wrath.  But Israel is not by nature an object of wrath, although they have “experienced a hardening in part” (9:30, 11:25).  Romans 10 makes clear it is God’s desire for Israel to be saved, they are not cut off from God and a remnant of Israel will be saved in the future.  Romans 11:1 cannot be clearer:  God has not rejected his people, and eventually “all Israel will be saved” (11:26).

Paul is writing in the pre-A.D. 70 world.  Israel still exists as a political reality, Jerusalem and the Temple still stand.  4 Ezra is on the other side of the terrible destruction of Jerusalem asking a legitimate question – does God still care for Israel? This question may be at the heart of the closest parallel in the New Testament to 4 Ezra, the Book of Revelation.

While Revelation never states the question in quite the same way 4 Ezra does, the fate of Israel in the post-A.D. 70 world is near the center of the theology of the book.  That Israel will continue to suffer and pass through torment is a given in the book; the nation will ultimately be tested to the point of death.  At the last moment, the Messiah will appear and vindicate his people and establish them in peace and safety in Jerusalem (and later the New Jerusalem) with a restored temple and renewed worship.  Revelation demonstrates, like 4 Ezra, that God has a plan to set things right in the future for the nation of Israel.

Another text which deals with the problem of Israel in the period after the fall of Jerusalem may be the book of Hebrews.  This book deals with the theological problems caused by a belief in Jesus as Messiah, especially the sacrificial system in the light of the death and resurrection.  The sacrifices are no longer necessary for a Jew to approach God since Jesus has given access to all through his blood.  The temple and Jerusalem are therefore no longer needed.  This is argued in non-eschatologically and would have appealed to Jews in the Diaspora.

9 thoughts on “The New Testament and 4 Ezra

  1. Great summer reading series, Phil! your time and dedication to teaching and navigating us through these apocalyptic waters is greatly appreciated.

    • Thanks Rob, I have enjoyed reviewing this material. I think I can get 2 Baruch finished this week, and I might do a few on 3 Baruch. I have material written on a few lesser-known texts (Apocs. of Abraham, Adam,Elijah, and Daniel). I thought I would get to them before my fall classes started, but I am not sure now.

      I planned on starting blogging through Romans in the fall since I am teaching a class on the book for the first time. Maybe I will sneak a few apocalypses into the mix in September anyway!

  2. It is interesting to read apocalyptic literature like Ezra. It is crazy to see how much the Jews have faced persecution, how the nation will be tortured to the point of death. That is crazy to think about. My dad says that most people fear the end times or think they will be alive during the end times. I do not know if this is entirely true but sometimes in today’s age i think that i might be able to see the end times, but I also know there have been a lot harder times since I have been alive. I think about all of the new changes going on in the world and how easily things could change and think about possibly being able to see it but I do not think it will happen. To hear that Jesus won’t come back until the point of death is a hard concept to swallow. We won’t know when Jesus comes back or what it will look like but we will be in extreme despair when he does.

  3. The connection between 4th Ezra and the New Testament, and specifically the Pauline Epistles, is one that requires nuance, as the circumstances that undergird both texts are slightly different from are written during similar time periods dealing with related issues. Specifically, 4th Ezra is written post-70 AD, after the destruction of the temple, while Paul’s letters are written in the late 40s into the early to mid-50s AD, predating the destruction. Yet, both authors deal with similar questions, that of the role of Israel in their relationship with God and whether He still cares for Israel. For Paul, the inclusion of Gentiles into the people of God is a revelation that radically altered the previous paradigm of thought that 1st century Judaism operated under. Yet, this focus on the Gentiles rose the question of the role of Israel within this new system. Romans 9-11 centers around this question, asserting that Israel will be saved and that eventually all of Israel will be saved (Rom 11:26).
    For the author of 4 Ezra, the question of whether God still cares for Israel following the destruction of the second temple in AD 70. Yet, the author addresses this issue from a different vantage point, using apocalyptic themes to help provide solutions to the problem. This displays that this disillusionment with the circumstances surrounding the Jews in the first century was something that was universally being felt among the Jews. Although Paul and 4th Ezra address the issue differently, with 4th Ezra also being written post-AD 70, they both attempt to provide answers to God’s relationship with Israel in difficult times.

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