Book Review: David G. Peterson, Hebrews. Tyndale New Testament Commentary

Peterson, David G. Hebrews. Tyndale New Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. xx+332pp. Pb. $30.00   Link to IVP Academic  

David Peterson’s new commentary on Hebrews in the TNTC series is a welcome contribution to the study of this difficult book. The commentary is a model of generally conservative, evangelical scholarship in the tradition of F. F. Bruce.

Peterson, HebrewsPrior to his retirement, Peterson was senior research fellow and lecturer in New Testament at Moore Theological College in Sydney. He did his doctoral work on Hebrews under F. F. Bruce and has published monographs: Hebrews and Perfection (SNTS Monograph Series 47; Cambridge, 1982), Possessed by God: A New Testament Theology of Sanctification and Holiness (NSBT 1; IVP Academic 1995) and the Acts volume in the Pillar New Testament Commentary. His personal blog collects many of his published articles.

The sixty-page introduction to the commentary covers the usual issues expected in a Hebrews commentary. Peterson begins by examining the character and style of the book. As is well-known, Hebrews balances exposition of Scripture with exhortations. These two threads run through the entire book. Regarding the structure and argument of the book, he briefly notes the contributions of various commentaries which make use of Greco-Roman rhetorical handbooks. But he ultimately rejects rhetorical as helpful for reading Hebrews. Following Lane, he states that Hebrews resists Greco-Roman rhetorical texts and cannot be forced into the mold of classical speech (15). Nor is this commentary overly influence by Philo. (The Tyndale Series does not include any indices so I cannot count the number of times the body of the commentary alludes Philo.)

Peterson argues the audience of Hebrews was a mixed congregation of Christians with a synagogue background, some of whom were in danger of drifting away from the Gospel. The pastor therefore exhorts these believers to encourage them to endure suffering and even martyrdom (19). That “drift away from the Gospel” may be towards the Jewish synagogue, but this is not a major point in the commentary.  The author is addressing a “deteriorating situation” (16) in which some readers are becoming weary of pursuing Christian discipleship and are considering a return to the safer option of the Synagogue. The author’s motivation is this unwillingness to progress in their discipleship, as well as the threat of persecution from Rome. The book is therefore a pastoral exhortation “to run the race set before them with endurance” (12:1-2).

Regarding destination and date, Peterson draws parallels to the situation in the Roman church found in Romans 14:1-15:7. Paul deals with some hostility between two parties over certain Jewish practices, specifically food and holy days. The consensus view is that Romans was written from Corinth in the winter of 57-58 to several house churches in Rome; Hebrews was written after Romans and deals with similar issues on a more serious, detailed way (20). Since the audience has not yet suffered to the point of shedding blood, (12:4), Peterson suggests a date before Nero’s persecution of Roman Christians in A. D. 64.

A major section in any introduction to Hebrews is authorship. Peterson offers a few comments on the usual suspects (Paul, Barnabas, Apollo) and observes the book of Hebrews itself considers human authorship secondary to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of human authors. For example, Hebrews 3:7 quotes Psalm 95 with the introductory phrase “As the Holy Spirit says…”  This is certainly an irenic strategy for stepping back from the usual heated debates about authorship, it may not satisfy those looking for support for their view.

The final section of the introduction offers an outline of the theology of Hebrews. Peterson argues God is central to the argument of Hebrews and the book as an “emerging Trinitarian perspective” (27). This Trinitarian God speaks through Scripture, and no other book of the New Testament makes use of the biblical text like Hebrews. As Caird observed, Hebrews is one of the earliest attempts to define the relationship between the Old and New Testaments (34).

Hebrews begins with the phrase “in these last days” so Peterson includes a section on eschatology and salvation in Hebrews. Hebrews argues “the end” was achieved by Christ and that salvation can be experienced as a present reality. Although there are a few hints of a future salvation (1:14, “inheriting salvation”), believers are encouraged to take part in the New Covenant and experience the fruit of sanctification at the present time. This leads to a major issue in Hebrews, apostasy and perseverance. The so-called warning passages address to the whole church (not just those in danger of drifting away from the Gospel). The author’s point is to encourage his readers to live faithful and fruitful lives and he is confident his readers will persevere (47). Peterson draws a parallel between Hebrews and the Parable of the Sower. There are some who are drawn to Christ but do not persevere. Perseverance is the mark of the genuine believer and warnings encourage the genuine believer to persevere (48).

The body of the follows the pattern of the Tyndale series. Chapters follow Peterson’s outline of the book, broken into shorter sections on each pericope. There is no new translation or textual notes, this sort of information is integrated into the body of the commentary (often in footnotes). Peterson begins each section with a brief paragraph setting the context, then works through the text’s sub-units (sometimes a single verse, but usually several verses at a time). All Greek appears in transliteration in both the body and footnotes, although Greek does not dominate the discussion. Peterson often comments on how major translations render a particular word or phrase. Each sub-unit ends with a brief paragraph, drawing some theological conclusions from the unit. Although he occasionally interacts with other major commentaries on Hebrews, Peterson’s goal is a concise explanation of the text rather than a report on what other commentaries have already said. This makes for a clear, readable commentary.

Conclusion. Peterson’s Hebrews commentary achieves the goal of providing a basis for Christian teaching and preaching of this important book of the New Testament. It will be useful for both Bible students and laypeople who want to study Hebrews closely.

The Tyndale New Testament Commentary series has collected some of the best short exegetical commentaries written by conservative and evangelical scholars. This new volume in the TNTC replaces Donald Guthrie’s 1983 commentary, which replaced Thomas Hewitt’s 1960 commentary. As typical happens, the commentary has expanded from Hewitt’s commentary was 217 pages and Guthrie’s 281 pages to 332 pages in this 2020 commentary. Given some expansive commentaries published in recent years, this commentary on Hebrews is a model of concise exegesis focused on the text itself.

 

Other reviewed commentaries in third Tyndale series:

Thomas R. Schreiner, 1 Corinthians

Ian Paul, Revelation

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

 

Book Review: Matthew Barrett, Canon, Covenant and Christology (NSBT 51)

Barrett, Matthew. Canon, Covenant and Christology: Rethinking Jesus and the Scriptures of Israel. NSBT 51; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. 357 pp. Pb; $34.00.  Link to IVP Academic 

Matthew Barrett serves as associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is executive editor of Credo Magazine. He has published several books on aspects of soteriology and has a monograph forthcoming from Baker Academic, Simply Trinity: The Unmanipulated Father, Son, and Spirit (March 2021). As expected, this new contribution to the New Studies on Biblical Theology leans towards systematic theology and is thoroughly Trinitarian.

Barett, Canon, Covenant and ChristologyThe earliest Christians saw their movement as the true heir of the Old Testament. They were the “true Jews, true sons of Abraham, even if they were ethnically Gentiles” (200). Barrett argues in this study that Jesus and the early church did not adopt the Old Testament, “the Old Testament Scriptures gave birth to Jesus himself and are the genesis of his church” (197). Jesus and the early church disagreed with other Jews about the fulfillment of Scripture (who is the Messiah?), but not about the canon itself. For the early church, the entire canon of the Old Testament was Christological, giving witness to the incarnation of the Son of God. The Christological interpretation of the Old Testament by the early church is absurd “if the Scriptures of Israel do not have Yahweh as their divine author” (292).  

The first chapter orients the reader to Barrett’s understanding of biblical theology. Underlying the entire argument of this book is Barrett’s firm belief in the inspired character of the whole of the whole of the canon. Since God is the author of the whole canon, there divine authorial intent and unity across the canon. Rather than repeating the usual “drama of redemption,” Barrett’s focus is on Jesus as the “Christological clamp” (following Peter Stuhlmacher). The Old Testament prefigures the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and “when the Son of God becomes incarnate and secures redemption on behalf of the ungodly, any residual canonical ambiguity disappears” (39). Reading from a New Testament perspective, it becomes clear God intended the Old Testament types to testify to his Son. As Barrett makes clear, the primary focus of this book is not the nature of typology, although the second chapter will need to define and clarify what he means by typology. The emphasis in this study is canonical unity from the prefigurement in the Old testament to fulfillment in the incarnation. Barrett says, “Jesus is the canon, for all the Scripture typologically point forward to him” (93).  

Chapter two lays out the thesis of the book. The interpreter’s hermeneutical grid needs to be re-orientated so that Jesus’s understanding of Scripture is not forced through a Pauline grid. Israel’s relationship with God in the Old Testament was covenantal. Barrett mentions covenants with Adam, Abraham, Moses, and David, but in other places he includes Noah, and in one list he ends with “David, and so on” (45). I am not sure what covenant might be after David other than the New Covenant in Jeremiah. The covenantal nature of the God’s revelation to his people was prophetic and eschatological, pointing forward to the ultimate fulfillment in the incarnation. These covenants escalate or progress towards their fulfillment in the person and work of Christ (63). Barrett shows this progression through typology. He tracks the progression of royal, priestly, and prophetic terminology in Isaiah as a typology pointed to an ultimate fulfillment in Jesus (a classic “prophet, priest, and king” typology).

Barrett calls chapters three and four “case studies.” He applies his typological method to the gospels of Matthew and John. But he introduces a familiar term into the study at this point, intertextuality. He states the Gospels employ both intertextual echoes and typological correspondence in order to describe Jesus as the fulfilment of covenants of the Old Testament, producing a canonical unity (98, 107). The relationship between these two interpretive strategies is slippery and usually not well defined. It appears typology refers to something present in the Old Testament text, and intertextuality refers to a New Testament text interpreting the Old. But the difference is not clear as he moves through Matthew and John.

For example, Barrett collects Matthew’s fulfillment statements in order to demonstrate the high view of Scripture Jesus and the evangelists had for the Old Testament. But is Matthew’s claim that Joseph moving to Nazareth fulfils “what was spoken by the prophets” a typology or an intertextual echo? Some might call this midrash, or canonical exegesis, etc. Other examples are more clearly typological, such as the new Exodus motif in Matthew. There are few direct allusions to a particular passage in the Old Testament as “fulfilled,” but Matthew patterns his presentation of Jesus after Moses and the Exodus. Barrett discusses Jesus’s use of Psalm 8:2 in Matthew 21:16, stating “Jesus relies on the typology of the psalm to justify his actions” (139). But he quotes the words of the psalm, so how is this not closer to intertextuality?  

Perhaps typology is better illustrated in Barrett’s chapter on John’s Gospel. He says, for example, John 9-10 is “filled with Christological metaphors, metaphors that build on the typology of Old Testament Israel” (179) and the metaphor of a shepherd is “rich in Old Testament allusions” (182). This is the case because John’s Gospel rarely cites particular texts, but often alludes to metaphors found in the Old Testament. As is clear in Barrett’s presentation, there are many passages which contain the metaphor “God is the good shepherd.” This can be fairly described as a typology since there is no single text in John’s mind.

Chapter five traces how the synoptic gospels present Jesus as obedient to the Scriptures, with an emphasis on what that says about the Scriptures. Barrett moves through each of the synoptic Gospels, examining the mission of the Son. This will reveal Jesus’s attitude toward Scripture. In the Gospels Jesus is the Adamic Son who fulfills all righteousness and attains the redemption of all people because he is obedient to the Scripture (204). Although he uses Adam-language in the introduction to this chapter, much of the typology is built on Moses or Israel. This is likely not a problem since Moses and Israel are presented as a new Adams even in the Old Testament. Luke’s Gospel seems to have the clearest Adam typology, although it receives the briefest coverage in this chapter.

Barrett returns to the Gospel of John in chapter six to argue Christology comes before canon. Where does Jesus get his authority? In John’s Gospel, his authority is a scriptural authority rooted in biblical Trinitarian Christology (249). Jesus is continuing the story of Israel as the long-awaited Messiah promised in the Old Testament. The New Testament is not an illegitimate add-on to the Old, but the completion of the redemption story (283).

The final chapter of the book is in substance a paper on inerrancy read at the 2017 national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. It should have been included as an appendix rather than a chapter.  

Conclusion. Although I have misgivings about the relationship of typology and intertextuality in this study, Barrett certainly achieves his goal by demonstrating both Jesus and the Gospel writers had a high view of Israel’s Scripture and saw Jesus as the fulfillment of those Scriptures. Within the evangelical world, there is little disagreement on inspiration and authority of both testaments, and interpreting the Old Testament Christologically is not particularly controversial. This book argues for a more thoroughgoing canonical view of Jesus and the Gospels, which will focus on the death and resurrection of the Son of God as the climax of the covenant.

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

 

Book Review: Scot McKnight and B. J. Oropeza, eds. Perspectives on Paul: Five Views

McKnight, Scot and B. J. Oropeza, eds. Perspectives on Paul: Five Views. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2020. 285 pp. pb. $29.99.   Link to Baker Academic

Some might question whether there is a need for yet another “five views” on Paul. This book is similar to Four Views on Paul edited by Michael Bird, Zondervan 2012), which also included a Reformed (Thomas Schreiner), a Catholic Perspective (Luke Timothy Johnson) a Post-New Perspective (Douglas Campbell) and a “Paul within Judaism” chapter (Mark Nanos). Focusing just on justification, Beilby and Eddy edited a five views book featuring a Roman Catholic view (Collins and Rafferty), two reformed views (traditional by Michael Horton and progressive reformed by Michael Bird), a New Perspective view by James Dunn and a “deification view” from Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen (IVP Academic 2011). There are others, including the recent Voices and Views on Paul, edited by Ben Witherington III and Jason A. Myers (IVP Academic 2020).

Perspectives on PaulAs with most “five perspectives” books, Perspectives on Paul is set up like a conference seminar. Each essay is followed by a response from each of the other perspectives. In this book, the original presenter is given a few pages to reply to these responses. The book begins with an overview of the last forty years of Pauline scholarship. All recent books on Paul use E. P. Sanders’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism as a convenient watershed since it launched the New Perspective on Paul. For the last several decades, Pauline scholarship has been dominated by those who react against some theological implications or those who seek to push beyond Sanders’s view of Paul and his relationship with Second Temple Judaism.

The introduction to Perspectives on Paul therefore begins with an overview of Sanders’s main arguments followed by a summary of two major proponents of what has become known as the New Perspective on Paul, James Dunn and N. T. Wright. There are six benefits related to studying Paul through the lens of the New Perspective (11): First, the New Perspective provides a better understanding of Paul’s letters. Second, it avoids individualistic readings and western perceptions of Paul’s letters. Third, the New Perspective reduces anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism by studying the literature of Second Temple Judaism closely in order to avoid mischaracterizations of what Jews believed in the first century. Fourth, the New Perspective provides for more continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament than typical of older studies, which saw a decisive break between Paul and Judaism. Fifth, this continuity between the Testaments allows for more continuity between Jesus and Paul. Sixth, the New Perspective also opens up the possibility of continuity between Roman Catholics and Protestants over the doctrine of justification.

This last benefit is often perceived as the greatest flaw for the New Perspective by some Protestants. James Dunn and N. T. Wright are overthrowing the assured results of the Reformation. This perceived attack on the Reformation sometimes results in fiery rhetoric that lacks engagement with the Pauline letters. In November 2010, I attended the Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting, which focused on Wright’s view of justification. (Here are my comments on the three plenary addresses by Thomas Schreiner, Frank Theilman and N. T. Wright). One of the parallel sessions claimed to be an answer to the New Perspective, yet the paper did not engage with the New Perspective directly and concluded what was wrong with the New Perspective is it challenges Reformation theology. In fact, the paper concluded with a lengthy citation of the Westminster Confession (as a mic-drop).

The second part of the introduction therefore surveys the reactions both for and against the New Perspective. The editors provide copious footnotes to the avalanche of anti-New Perspective literature. Among the post-New Perspective studies briefly surveyed in this section is the Paul within Judaism” view represented by Magnus Zetterholm in chapter 4, Francis Watson’s Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles (Cambridge, 1986) and revised by adding the subtitle Beyond the New Perspective (Eerdmans 2011), Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God (Eerdmans 2009) as a representative of the apocalyptic view on Paul, and John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans, 2017), also featured chapter five of this volume.

Brant Pitre outlines the Roman Catholic Perspective on Paul. Pitre shows that Sanders’s interpretation of Paul is very close to Catholic soteriology and Sander’s exegesis of Paul unintentionally arrived at the same conclusions as patristic, medieval Catholic interpreters and the Council of Trent (27). He therefore examined several issues in Sanders, in patristic writers, and Trent. In fact, he points out that the Council of Trent’s decree and justification “Paul over fifty times and the Bible over one hundred times. He does not therefore understand statements from N. T. Wright like “the Council of Trent responded by insisting on tradition” (54). Pitre does not see a contradiction between Paul’s doctrine of “initial justification by grace through faith and final justification according to works enough by faith alone” (52)  In Zetterholm’s response, he observes that it is “quite ironic; Paul, the great hero of Protestantism, turns out to have been the first real Catholic (68).

A. Andrew Das gives the Traditional Protestant Perspective on Paul, although Das prefers to call his view a “newer perspective” (85). Das recognizes agrees with Sanders that not all Second Temple Jews affirmed a legalistic approach to salvation. But unlike Sanders, he thinks some Jews were legalistic and Paul responds to that claim. He therefore spends much of this chapter examining Galatians 3 and Romans 4 in order to argue Abraham was a model of obedience for Second Temple period Judaism. Paul demands perfect obedience to the law, but this is “not necessarily a commentary on Second Temple Judaism, but a consequence of his Christological emphases” (94). For Das, following the law is a mere human endeavor which stands in contrast to the gift of justification.

James D. G. Dunn is the obvious choice to present the New Perspective on Paul. Many of Dunn’s ideas are so well known by this point he can summarize briefly his views on Galatians 2:16 and the Antioch Incident. However, he makes the bold suggestion that Luke complicated the history of early Christianity by qualifying Paul’s claim to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Luke shifts the initial preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles to Peter (Acts 10) and omits the details of the Antioch Incident. By glossing over the sharp conflict described in Galatians 2, “Luke the apologist has taken over from Luke the historian” (142). Paul’s gospel of salvation through faith alone “was lost to sight in Luke’s history and in subsequent history that he had in effect encouraged” (145). This view of whether Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone was lost is controversial. Pitre claims justification by faith is in the patristic writers (151). Das focuses a broad range of Jewish and Gentile interaction around meals, which “would be perceived by some Jews as a reeking of idolatry if not also law violations” (158). Barclay does not address Luke’s reception of Paul since it is not central to the New Perspective, suggesting that Dunn’s comments on Acts “reflect a strong, subterranean influence of F. C. Bauer” (164). Dunn confesses he has over-written in the topic and should have held the discussion of Luke’s reception of Paul for another time (168).

Magnus Zetterholm lays out the “Paul within Judaism Perspective.” For Zetterholm, the Pauline scholars must determine “what Paul is communicating in the socio-religious-political situation in which he lived, no matter the consequences for normative theology” (66, emphasis his). Torah observance was only a problem for Paul regarding Gentiles. Although he expects non-Jews in Christ to conform to certain moral standards (such as refraining from idolatry), he never expected the Gentiles to keep Torah. Jews who are in Christ should continue to keep the law. Zetterholm observes that Paul is called to be the apostle to the nations, The theological problem Paul faced was not related to how Israel is going to be saved. Of course, Paul touches on Israel’s salvation, but he has far more to say about how the pagans are going to be saved. For Paul, Israel’s salvation was never in doubt (189). Gentiles will be included in the final salvation without giving up their ethnic identity: they do not convert and “become Jews” (whatever that might mean in the context of Second Temple Judaism).   

The “Gift Perspective on Paul” appears in a book on Pauline viewpoints. John M. G. Barclay briefly summarizes his Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans, 2015) and explains how his view extends the insights of the New Perspective. Although it might seem strange to include a recent book on Paul as “perspective,” Brant Pitre suggests Barclay’s book will prove as consequential as Sanders’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism (237). As Barclay states, the “Gift Perspective on Paul” perspective is not as much a well-defined school of interpretation, but rather a loose constellation of viewpoints centering on the definition of grace as an incongruous gift illustrated by the wide diversity of use within second temple Judaism. Paul stands within the spectrum and applies the idea of grace to his Gentile mission. It is not whether there would be a mission to the Gentiles, but how the Gentiles would be included. Of importance is for Barclay is Romans 9–11, which “displays a complex dialectic between the Christ event and the scriptural story of Israel” (231).

Conclusion. To a certain extent, the title of this book is misleading. The five perspectives are all more or less in conversation with E. P. Sanders. As the editors make clear in the introduction, even the traditional view has taken new a new shape because of Sanders. Das says he is in “largely in agreement with Sanders” and Barclay’s recent nuanced view of grace (84) despite representing the Traditional Protestant view. Are there other more aggressively traditional Pauline scholars who might have provided more contrast with Sanders? Thomas Schreiner comes to mind, although he contributed to the Four Views on Paul (Zondervan 2012).

One important view missing in this book is the Apocalyptic Paul. Of course editorial choices must be made and keeping these multi-perspective books to four or five is likely the preference of the publishers. In my review of Voices and Views on Paul, I complained there was too much New Perspective and the Paul within Judaism view was missing. Perhaps this book could have been improved by expanding the introduction to include Dunn’s views, allowing for a chapter on Apocalyptic perspective. However, this would deprive the reader from enjoying one of the last essays Dunn wrote. In fact, the book is worth reading, if only for Dunn’s contributions.

Book Review: Richard P. Belcher, Finding Favour in the Sight of God: A Theology of Wisdom Literature

Belcher Jr., Richard P. Finding Favour in the Sight of God: A Theology of Wisdom Literature. NSBT 46; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2018. 310 pp. Pb; $28.00.   Link to IVP Academic 

Richard Belcher’s contribution to New Studies in Biblical Theology focuses on Wisdom Literature. In the introductory chapter, Belcher observes wisdom literature is like an orphan in Old Testament theology. This is perhaps even more true for biblical theology which interested in the entire canon of Scripture. Part of the problem is the scholarly consensus which dates most of this literature in the post-exilic period. For Belcher, the historical Solomon functions of the second Adam, therefore much of this Solomonic wisdom literature looks back to the early chapters of Genesis (12).

Belcher, Finding Favour in the Sight of the LordThe next three chapters treat the Book of Proverbs. First, he focuses on the message of Proverbs 1-9. After the preamble (Prov 1:1-7), these chapters offer a choice between two ways, wisdom and folly. These chapters alternate between lectures from the teacher or father and the words of Lady Wisdom. In fact, it is this personification of wisdom that is the dominant feature in the first nine chapters of Proverbs. Lady Wisdom is calling God’s people to follow his way, and that way begins with the fear of the Lord (37). Belcher briefly comments on the Christ implications of Lady wisdom. Both wisdom and Christ are like “street preachers” proclaiming their messages in public venues and calling people to follow them. “Both wisdom and Christ are like banquet hostesses sending forth messengers, inviting people to a banquet of substantial food, experiencing opposition from sinners and promising life to those who come to the banquet” (38).

Second, he deals with the hermeneutics of Proverbs. The genre of a proverb and the lack of literary context creates hermeneutical problems for most interpreters. In fact, many Proverbs could be seen as secular statements. Like most introductions to Proverbs, Belcher briefly discuss is whether Proverbs are absolute statements. Most Proverbs can be fairly described as “dependently true.” One can always add “in general” or “in most cases” to the end of a proverb. There are always exceptions. Belcher argues the proverbs that are dependently true now will be universally true in the new heavens and earth (50). What I do not see in this chapter is the effect of sin on the ideal wise life. The reason some proverbs seem “dependently true” results from sin corrupting the created order. This would give Belcher an opportunity to develop a canonical theology of wisdom which considers the corruption of the created order (looking back to Genesis 3) and forward to the restoration of creation in the new creation.

Third, Belcher describes the theology of the Proverbs. Most introductions to wisdom literature, this theology focuses on the sovereignty of God in the goodness of the created order. One lives their life taking into consideration the goodness of the created order, when will have success in life. However, Belcher does not think that life in the book of Proverbs should be limited to this world, as if secular success was the point of the book. The fullness of life associated with the Lord looks forward to a time when the wicked or overthrown and the righteous find refuge (73).

Belcher covers the complex book of Job in three chapters. First, deals with the theological issues in the prologue to the book (Job 1-3). It is Satan that raises the question of the relationship between piety and prosperity, and Job’s wife asks the critical question, “why does Job hold fast to his integrity?” Belcher considers Job a wisdom debate about how to respond to suffering. This may be the case, but I would suggest that job also deals with the failure of wisdom. He has lived out the proverbial wise life, yet he suffered anyway.

The second and third chapter in this section continue a running commentary on Job. After surveying each of the three friend’s speeches, Belcher summarizes their theology as a “mechanical view of divine retribution that leads to a narrow view of God and his justice” (97).  Job 27-42 asks and answers the question “where is wisdom to be found?” in Job’s final words, Elihu’s speeches, and God’s speeches. Since readers of Job are always interested in the two creatures in chapter 40-41, Belcher concludes Behemoth is an animal of the natural world and Leviathan is a supernatural creature (124).

Although he thinks that suffering is integral to the book, he observes that Job never finds out why he suffered. Belcher thinks the book teaches an appropriate response to suffering, either positively through Job, or negatively through the three friends. Part of the teaching of the book, he suggests, is how to counsel someone who is suffering. Although these are fair applications of the book of Job, I question whether suffering is the major theme of the book. Perhaps it is Belcher’s second theological thread in the book of Job, the sovereignty of God and divine retribution.

The final unit of the book is three chapters on the book of Ecclesiastes. Belcher deals with more introductory questions than for Proverbs of Job, partly because there are several difficult problems the interpreter must address before reading the book. Belcher suggests that Ecclesiastes is part of the wisdom tradition, but the writer wrestles with how normative wisdom teaching matches with what he observes in life (145). Ecclesiastes deals with the “breakdown of the deed-consequence relationship” (144). People can live the life of wisdom, yet their life is still futile, “chasing after the wind.” Although Belcher does not make this connection explicitly in the book, this is the same problem Job addresses.

The second chapter of the unit is a brief running commentary on Ecclesiastes and in the third chapter Belcher summarizes the theology of Ecclesiastes. The book presents God’s works is incomprehensible to the human being. The writer presents God as a judge throughout the book, although Ecclesiastes does not suggest a future judgment as a solution to the meaninglessness of life.

The final chapter of the book develops the canonical connections between wisdom literature and Jesus. First, the teaching of Jesus shares some characteristics of the wisdom teacher, including the use of proverbs and beatitudes. There are several themes which appear in both Proverbs and Jesus’s teaching. Belcher has a chart comparing Proverbs to the Sermon on the Mount, for example (195). Much of the comparisons phone into the category of “two ways theology” which was very much a part of Second Temple Judaism, although it goes beyond the scope of this book to explore non-biblical wisdom literature such as Sirach. Second, Belcher explores the humanity and deity of Christ as presented in John 1:1-18 and Colossians 1:15-20 as allusions to the personification of wisdom on Proverbs 8. Third, Belcher briefly discusses Paul’s use of wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:24-30. There Paul contrasts the wisdom of the world and the work of Christ.

Conclusion. Richard Belcher’s Finding Favour in the Sight of the Lord is an excellent introduction to the contents and theology of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes. He clearly presents the contents and the theology of these three books in a way which will stimulate academic readers but also appeals to the non-academic reader.

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

Book Review: Brant Pitre, Michael Barber, and John Kincaid. Paul, A New Covenant Jew: Rethinking Pauline Theology

Pitre, Brant, Michael P. Barber, John A. Kincaid. Paul, a New Covenant Jew: Rethinking Pauline Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2019. 310 pp. Pb; $35.00.   Link to Eerdmans 

In the introduction to this volume on Pauline theology, the authors state their modest goal of contributing to a few of the major debates within scholarship, limiting themselves to recent exegesis of Paul’s undisputed letters (6). This requires unpacking Pauline theology in the light of the original context.

Pitre, New Covenant JewThe first two chapters of the book examine Paul’s relationship with Judaism. Would Paul have identified himself as a “former Jew?” For most twentieth century Pauline scholarship, the answer is “yes.” Paul was a former Jew in the sense that he underwent some sort of conversion experience and became, in the view of Rudolf Bultmann, a representative of “Torah Free Gentile Christianity.” Although the authors of this volume do not use the term, this view is the Old Perspective on Paul challenged by E. P Sanders.

Others consider Paul to represent an Eschatological Jew. This view would answer the question, “Would Paul have identified himself as a former Jew?” with a “sort of.” The authors follow Dunn in this section, although they do not refer to this as the “New Perspective on Paul.” Rather than focus on how Paul’s theology cuts across the grain of the Judaism of his day, this position would argue Paul in some ways stays within Judaism. James Dunn argued Paul experienced a conversion, but it was “a conversion to a better, a more correct understanding of [God’s] will and purpose for Israel” (23, citing Dunn’s Jesus Paul and the Gospels, 141). Three things stand out in this perspective. First, the “already” of the new creation began with Jesus. For Paul, becoming a Christian means becoming a new creation. Second, this new creation is to be “in Christ” rather than “under the Law.” This participation in Christ is central to Paul’s theology. Third, the “not yet” of new creation implies an end-time conversion of the remnant (Romans 11:26).

A third view is Paul as a Torah-observant Jew. This is often called the “Paul within Judaism” and is represented by the work of Mark Nanos, Paula Fredriksen, Magnus Zetterholm, and Pamela Eisenbaum This view of Paul would answer the question, “Would Paul have identified himself as a former Jew?” with a resounding “no.” Paul did not convert to Christianity and he never uses the term “Christian” to refer to himself or any other believer in Jesus. Paul continued to observe the Torah and would have told a Jewish convert to continue observing the law. Paul did not require Gentiles to keep the law on order to be right with God. Since the authentic letters of Paul were written exclusively to gentile audiences, modern scholars on;y hear Pau’s argument against Gentiles keeping the law. Regarding Romans 11:26, opponents of this view argue Paul does not say “all Israel will convert to Christianity” but “all Israel will confess Jesus as Messiah.”

On contrast to these three views, Pitre, Barber and Kincaid describe Paul as a “New Covenant Jew” because that is the terminology he uses to describe himself (39). They build on the work of Protestant scholars like Michael Gorman, Richard Hays, N. T. Wright, Michael Bird and Catholic scholars like Joseph Fitzmyer, Frank Matera and Scott Hahn. Since this description is “drawn from the Jewish scriptures (Jer 31:31-34), it has within itself the power to account for elements of both continuity (“covenant”) in discontinuity (“new”) with Judaism on Paul’s theology” (39). Paul understands himself as a minister of this new covenant and that there is always a balance of divine and human actions n Paul’s theology. To argue “the law is not sufficient to save is hardly anti-Jewish” (45). In fact, for Paul, “the new covenant involves emotive faithful obedience that transcends that which was possible under the Torah” (63).

Another aspect of the question “What kind of Jew was Paul?” is the recent trend in Pauline scholarship to describe his theology as apocalyptic. By apocalyptic, some scholars mean radical discontinuity between the ages is often described as a “eschatological invasion” (J. Louis Martyn, Douglas Campbell, for example). Other scholars use the term “apocalyptic” to emphasize continuity between Paul’s teaching and its early Jewish context (N. T. Wright, Michael Gorman, for example). The authors attempt a “both-and” approach which argues Paul’s theology is deeply rooted in early Jewish apocalypses (continuity), but he radically transformed that Jewish theology around the revelation of what God has done in Christ (discontinuity). Jewish eschatology can be described as “two worlds theology,” this age and the age to come. In Paul, these worlds overlap. This world is giving way to the world to come; the old creation is becoming a new creation. The overlap of the ages Paul describes as “in Christ” (73). This is clear in Paul’s contrast between a heavenly citizenship in an earthly citizenship. Yet for Paul, Christians two realms, they are still on earth, yet they are also in the heavens (88). Paul makes claims that are indeed radically discontinuous with the Judaism of his day. But he describes the revelation of Jesus Christ in this new age in ways that are consistent with the Second Temple Judaism.

The next three chapters apply this view of Paul as a New Covenant Jew to three theological issues: Christology, the Cross and the Atonement, and New Covenant justification through divine sonship.  In each Paul’s theology is in some ways consistent with Second Temple Judaism, yet in other important ways it breaks new ground. With respect to Christology, the authors observe that Paul is deeply rooted in first century Judaism. Yet at the same time he goes well beyond early Jewish sources in his messianic claims (96). There is no doubt that Paul understood Jesus as the Messiah. Yet he also clearly teaches that Jesus has equality with God Philippians 2. In 1 Corinthians 8:5-6, Paul inserts Jesus into the Shema, “there is one God and one Lord” (116). Paul describes “Christ’s relationship with believers in terms that Jewish readers would have associated exclusively with the one God of the Shema (Deut 6:4-6)” (123).  

Regarding the cross and the atonement, the both-and approach emphasizes Jesus’s death is a sacrifice of atonement or redemption (continuity), yet Paul insists salvation occurs through a divine gift of love (discontinuity, 130). Atonement, ransom, and redemption are the vocabulary of Second Temple Judaism, yet Jesus’s death is not only a sacrifice. Certainly, Paul presents Jesus’s death is a covenant sacrifice, but he emphasizes that Jesus gave himself for us he underscores the gracious nature of Christ’s work on the cross. This chapter is deeply influenced by John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans, 2015).

This discussion of the atonement leads naturally to Paul’s view of justification. Pitre, Barber and Kincaid observe much of the contemporary debate and Reformation theological disputes neglect the way justification terminology would have been understood in ancient Judaism. They therefore discuss whether Paul’s doctrine of justification brings about a “change in character” or a “change in legal status” (163). Once again, Barclay’s Paul and the Gift influences the discussion. The authors agree with him that “Paul avoids viewing the divine and human actors as somehow in competition with one another” (169). In the old covenant the problem was always the heart of God’s people. The people could not keep the Torah because the Torah could not change the people. The authors conclude “saving righteousness of God in justification is a singular righteousness that concerns both legal standing and the quality of the believer” (179).

Early in the book, the authors observe Paul’s new covenant ministry among the Corinthian’s involved the liturgical celebration of the new covenant in the Last Supper (47). This is developed in more detail in chapter 6, “The Lord’s Supper in the New Creation.” The authors continue to work their both-and method. The Lord’s Supper celebrates the sacrificial death of Christ. As such, there are numerous allusions to Jewish sacrificial tradition in the key passage in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, especially when read alongside Exodus 24:6-8. Since Paul connects Christ’s death as a covenant sacrifice to the Passover lamb, he emphasizes that Christ’s sacrifice would involve a cultic meal (239). This is the continuity with the old age; the discontinuity is Paul’s insistence that the bread in the cup or a foretaste of the new creation found in the life-giving Spirit (243). By participating in the Lord Supper, “the gathered community becomes what is consumed, the body of Christ” (250).  

Conclusion. Pitre, Barber and Kincaid suggest a slightly new way for reading Paul as a “New Covenant Jew” that take seriously recent studies in both the Apocalyptic Paul and the “Paul within Judaism” view. A “both-and method” stresses Paul’s continuity with his Jewish world, as well as his view of the radical changes to that world caused by the apocalyptic appearance of Jesus “between the ages.” As with most both-and positions, both Apocalyptic Paul scholars and Paul within Judaism” scholars will probably find the New Covenant Paul as familiar, yet not quite satisfying. Nevertheless, this is a stimulating account of Paul’s thought which gives voice to Paul’s roots in the Jewish world without ignoring the radical nature of his thought.

 

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

Book Review: David Burr, The Book of Revelation (The Bible in Medieval Tradition)

Burr, David D. The Book of Revelation. The Bible in Medieval Tradition. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2019. 424 pp. Pb; $65.00.   Link to Eerdmans 

This fifth volume of The Bible in Medieval Tradition series, following volumes on Genesis, Jeremiah, Romans and Galatians. The intent of the series is to “reacquaint the Church with its rich history of biblical interpretation and with the contemporary applicability of this history, especially for academic study, spiritual formation, preaching, discussion groups, and individual reflection.”  Since much of medieval exegesis has yet to be translated these volumes provide a wealth of primary sources previously unavailable to most English readers. David Burr published a monograph on Olivi’s Peaceable Kingdom: A Reading of the Apocalypse Commentary (Penn Press, 1993) and The Spiritual Franciscans: From Protest to Persecution in the Century After Saint Francis (Penn State University Press, 2003) as well as a number of articles on Peter Olivi.

Burr, Revelation medieval commenatryIn the introduction to the book, Burr observes that Petrus Iohannis Olivi wrote his commentary on Revelation with three books open on his desk: the Bible and the commentaries by Richard of Saint Victor and Joachim of Fiore. In fact, this book is a tribute to the long shadow cast by Joachim of Fiore. As Burr states in his Prolegomenon, his self-assigned task was to describe what happened from Richard and Joachim (twelfth century) to Nicholas of Lyra (fourteenth century). Because of an interest in the early church and the Reformation, the medieval period is usually ignored, perhaps considered less interesting than the other periods.

In order to set the stage for his survey of medieval commentaries on Revelation, his Prolegomenon offers a twenty-six-page overview of the contents and theology of Revelation itself followed by a rapid survey of the discussion of the book from the first to the twelfth centuries (following a 1976 article by Robert Lerner). A final section of the Prolegomenon is a short account of the development of the “legend of the antichrist” from 1 John 2:17 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10.

Unlike other ancient commentary series, this book is not a running commentary on Revelation from various sources. Instead, Burr offers ten examples of medieval commentators, offering some background for each and an introduction to their thought. Each chapter begins with a brief biographical sketch and introduction to their contribution to biblical studies. Burr then provides lengthy extracts from the author’s major works on Revelation with some comment. Most chapters include a final section of “Readings,” uninterrupted extracts from the subject of the chapter.

The first chapter discusses Richard of Saint Victor. Burr describes Richard as a new era of biblical scholarship an attempt at an alliance between biblical scholarship and mystical theology.  Three chapters are dedicated to Joachim of Fiore (ch. 2) and his influence on what Burr calls the pseudo-Joachim writers (ch. 3) and Alexander Minorita (ch. 4). Joachim blends Daniel and Revelation into a complex tapestry of historical allusions. Joachim’s God “presides over the vast panorama of historical development, shaping it to his favored ends” (89). Like Joachim, Alexander Minorita “poured into his commentary all the historical the sources at his disposal” (180) and he is often aware of imperial current imperial history (159). For example, he starts his prophetic clock with Pope Sylvester (d. 335) and the opening of the seventh seal is the death of Constantine. Various angels are identified as historical figures leading up to the divine wrath in Revelation 16 (which was still ongoing when Alexander wrote). Like Joachim, he labels Saladin as a beast (159). But this historical reading is often with “Franciscan self-advertisement” (168). The olive tree and lampstand in Revelation 11:4 are “Dominic with innocence and Francis with conversion” (159). His comments on Revelation 22:11 “begins what might just leave be described as a stunning example of smug mendicant self-importance” (163).

The fifth chapter treats the Paris Mendicant Model. Two things are important here. First, the book of Revelation presented seven visions, and second, it portrayed a seven-fold Christian history. This tradition dates as far back as Augustine and Jerome, is a main feature of Joachim ‘s commentary on the Apocalypse and reappears in a group of five Dominican and Franciscan commentaries treated in this chapter. 

Chapter 6 is focused on Bonaventure’s Collationes in hexaemeron, hey speech delivered to the Franciscans at Paris in 1273. Although this is not a commentary on Revelation, it does reflect his reading of Revelation that is an “important contribution to thirteenth-century exegesis of the apocalypse” (231). In this work, Bonaventure pushes the exegesis of Revelation into a whole new phase, not refuting Joachim, but rather by providing a genuine appreciation of him (236). Burr interacts with Joseph Ratzinger’s The Theology of St. Bonaventure (Franciscan Herald Press, 1971). A major interest is whether Bonaventure actually identifies Saint Francis as the sixth angel in Revelation 3:7-13 and the Franciscans as the new contemplative order in the future seventh age. For Bonaventure, the sixth age began around the time of Charlemagne. The Franciscans were, in his day, “recipients of a great call but also notorious back sliders” (249). Following Ratzinger, Francis “anticipated the eschatological form of life which will be the general form of life in the future” (250). 

Seven Headed Dragon Joachim of Fiore

Seven Headed Dragon from Joachim of Fiore, Commentary on Revelation

Chapter 7 discuss the early writings of Petrus Iohannis Olivi and Chapter 8 focuses on his Commentary on Revelation. In the introduction to the book, Burr admits that two chapters on Olivi may be excessive, but he wants to show that Olivi drew on the Gospels for many of his views on the Apocalypse. For example, it his commentary on Matthew Olivi understands the “anti-Christ” in at least three senses: First, all those who impugn Christ, his person, his teaching, and the elect; second, the “mystical antichrist” who works within the faith to subvert Christ life in spirit; and third, the “great Antichrist” who works outside the faith to attack Christianity itself (273). These early commentaries demonstrate Olivi believes prophecy deals with Christ three advance, in the flesh, the spirit, and in judgment (285). Olivi believed he lived in the transition between the fifth and sixth ages. Joachim the sign of the new age and Francis was the key agent of its inception. I believe that the church was suffering through a period of blindness “which will carry it into the temptation of the antichrist in the coming sixth age” (315). He fears that the pope will turn against the Franciscans and will attack faithful observers of evangelical poverty. 

Both Petrus Aurioli (ch. 9) and Nicholas of Lyra (ch. 10) represent the Franciscan order moving away from Olivi’s Apocalypse. Like Alexander Minorita, Aurioli read Revelation as a narrative of Christian history (359). But his commentary is not an “ode to the Franciscans or even the mendicants as it is a triumphalist tribute to the institutional church” (361). Nicholas of Lyra is the first to read Revelation as a story of what will occur in the present and in the future (369). Nicolas used a “double literal sense” of prophecy allowing for one meaning in the prophet’s own time in another meaning for the future. Both can be considered literal.

Conclusion. Although there are few today who would advocate to a return to medieval exegesis of the Apocalypse, there is much in this volume of interest to contemporary readers of the book of Revelation. Each of the voices surveyed in this book read Revelation as applicable to their own day, even if that means interpreting the symbolism of the book as recent historical events and discovering hints of their own theological preferences. Many assumptions about Revelation in both scholarly and popular commentaries have roots in these medieval commentaries.

Although it would have added considerably to the cost of this book, the book needs a section of illustrations, especially for Joachim’s commentaries. Most of this is available online, it would benefit the reader to search for images associated with Joachim, Alexander Minorita, and Nicholas of Lyra.

 

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

Book Review: John Goldingay, Genesis (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament)

Goldingay, John. Genesis. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament: Pentateuch. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2020. 808 pp. Hb. $59.99.   Link to Baker Academic

The goal of the first volume of the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament: Pentateuch is to be critically engaged and theologically sensitive. Although less important for a commentary on Genesis, this series on the Pentateuch will consider advances on how the legal corpora relates to narrative. John Goldingay is a prolific writer well known for his WBC Commentary on Daniel and this ICC Commentaries n Isaiah 40-55 (with David Payne) and Isaiah 56-66.  He has previously contributed a three-volume commentary in this series on the Psalms for this series published by Baker Academic and his Hosea-Micah volume is due in January 2021. In addition to a popular commentary on each First Testament book (to use his preferred title for the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible) and his own translation of the First Testament, Goldingay also wrote a massive three-volume Old Testament Theology (IVP Academic, 2003-2009).

Goldingay, Commentary on GenesisGoldingay outlines his method for writing this commentary in the introduction. Commentaries in this series begin with a fresh translation of the Hebrew text. Goldingay uses his own The First Testament (IVP Academic, 2018). He then wrote the commentary with “what I had in my head and my imagination” using only the latest Hebrew text (BHQ). The initial commentary used no secondary resources at all. He then read commentaries in several categories: early Jewish interpretation (LXX, Jubilees, the Targums) and interpretation early Christian interpretation (Theodotion, the Vulgate, Jerome, Origen, and Augustine). He then turned to medieval Jewish interpreters such as the Genesis Rabbah, Rashi and Qimchi, and Reformation Christian interpreters (Calvin, Luther, and Willet), nineteenth-century interpreters such as Keil and Delitzsch, Skinner, twentieth-century interpreters such as Von Rad, Westermann, Wenham, and finally twenty-first-century interpretation, including African and Asian American commentators. After this reading, he modified and expanded his draft with the help of his wife Kathleen. He does not indicate where his views agree or disagree with the majority or with recent scholarship. The result is a readable commentary that does not get bogged down with minute details of the text yet reflects both the best Jewish and Christian scholarship.

The introduction to the book is quite short, only twelve pages. This might disappoint some readers, since Goldingay almost completely ignores critical questions about the origin of Genesis. He suggests the canonical form of Genesis dates to after the fall of Judah to Babylon in 587 B.C. although it certainly makes use of earlier tradition. “It is implausible to think of Genesis being created from scratch in the Babylonian” (8). In the body of the commentary usually does not refer to the latest critical views on the origin of Genesis, “not least because they will not be the latest critical conclusions by the time you read this commentary” (9). Nevertheless, occasionally he says things like “according to traditional source criticism…” (364) in the body of the commentary.

Like most outlines of Genesis, Goldingay divides the book into four parts based on the book’s use of genealogies (tolodoth): Genesis 1:1-11:26 (The lines of descent of the heavens and the earth); 11:27-25:11 (Terah’s line of descent, focusing on Abraham); 25:12-35:29 (Isaac’s line of descent, focusing on Jacob); 36:1-50:26 (Jacob’s line of descent, focusing on Joseph).

The bulk of the introduction deals with defining what he means by story, and how story relates to history. Goldingay suggests “the Holy Spirit inspired an author or authors to use their imagination to tell their factually based story” (5). The trouble is determining what is based on facts and what is based on the imagination of the author. Goldingay doesn’t seem to care: he believes the text of Genesis is what the Holy Spirit and the human author wanted us to study. Questions of historicity are therefore not of interest in the commentary. He has a similar view on the date of composition for the book of Genesis. “One cannot base and understanding of Genesis on knowing the date of its stories or on seeing it as an expression of the ideology of a particular group or period in Israel’s history” (9).

Each section of the commentary begins with an overview of the new chapter/unit in Genesis. Some units are brief. Goldingay’s chapter on Genesis 21:22-34 is a mere five pages. Others cover entire chapters, such as the section on Genesis 24 (sixty-seven verses in twenty-eight pages). Goldingay’s translation follows with footnotes for lexical and textual issues (alternate readings found in the LXX, Samaritan Pentateuch, Targumim, etc.) These notes occasionally deal with technical matters of Hebrew syntax. The interpretation by subunits. Occasionally he does a few verses at the time. When referring to the original text, Hebrew appears in transliteration, but this is not a detailed commentary on the Hebrew text of Genesis. Goldingay uses his footnotes to point readers to other interpretive voices. Often these are other Genesis commentaries, but it is not unusual to see references to Church Fathers, Jewish sources, Reformation commentators, or even Karl Barth.

In many sections, Goldingay concludes with a brief section entitled “Implications” where he treats historical or theological ramifications of the section, reception history or other canonical connections. For example, this section compares the Flood narrative in Genesis 6:9-8:22 with other ancient flood myths. He comments on the theological implications of God seeing and opening wombs in Genesis 29:31-30:24. On the Sarah and Hagar story (Genesis 16), Goldingay’s comments drawn on postcolonial studies which point out Hagar is an African woman. Surprisingly, he does not deal with Paul’s reception of this story in Galatians 4, but rather how Hagar’s story overlaps with Philemon and the return of the slave.

The book concludes with a forty-page bibliography and forty-four pages of indices (subject, author, and Scripture and other ancient writings).

Conclusion: In his introduction to the commentary series, Bill Arnold described this commentary series as a reliable resource for the church dealing with themes rooted in the Pentateuch. This commentary achieves that goal. Goldingay is an excellent writer, and the commentary is entertaining to read. For example, at the end of the section dealing with Jacob wrestling the angel in Genesis 32, he adds a footnote “or rather a thigh-note” on the use of this story to prohibit eating the sciatic nerve even though this is not found in the Torah (516). This commentary is a serious contribution to the study of the first book of the Bible and will be valuable for both students and pastors working on Genesis.

 

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

Book Review: Christopher D. Stanley, A Rooster for Asklepios

Stanley, Christopher D. A Rooster for Asklepios. Buffalo, NY: NFB Publishing, 2020. 520 pp. Pb. $25.00; Kindle $9.99  Link to Amazon  A Slave’s Story website 

In the last few years, the genre of “scholarly novel” has become popular. By scholarly novel, I mean a serious scholar writes a story in a particular context in order to illustrate some aspect of biblical culture. IVP Academic published several short stories in their “Week in the Life” series. For example, David deSilva’s A Week in the Life of Ephesus (2020) or Holly Beers, A Day in the Life a Greco-Roman Woman (2019). Ben Witherington wrote a novel on Priscilla (IVP 2018) and Paula Gooder wrote an excellent novel about Phoebe (IVP 2018). These kinds of books are very popular; The first edition of Bruce Longenecker’s Lost Letters of Pergamum (Baker 2016) was a popular textbook and sold over 30,000 copies! The scholarly novel is not new; Paul L. Maier’s “documentary novel” Flames of Rome (Doubleday, 1981; Kregel 1991) is an example of a scholar creating a story from their academic research.

Rooster for AsklepiosThere are others, but perhaps the best example of this kind of historical novel is James Michener’s The Source (1965). I often recommend this book to people traveling to Israel with me in order to orient them to the history and culture they will experience in Israel.

Christopher Stanley’s A Slave’s Story is like these scholarly novels, but is quite different. Like these novels, Stanley draws on his thirty years of academic experience both writing and editing academic books and articles as well as extensive, on-site research into the locations described in the books. But Stanley’s book is far more detailed than the Week in the Life series or even the popular Lost Letters of Pergamum. The first volume of the series is over 500 pages long with no illustrations or sidebars. This is in every sense of the word a historical novel.

Stanley made considerable effort to ensure the historical and cultural accuracy of every detail in his novels. This included careful on-site research at most of the places mentioned in the books. I exchanged several emails with Stanley this summer before I read the first novel. He explained the extent of his research for the Pergamon Asklepion as an example of his methods. Most of Asklepion open to visitors is from the second century CE or later. Stanley was not content to visit the tourist site and use that as a background for his novel. He read through the five-volume German archaeological report on the site in order to describe the Asklepion as it would have appeared in the mid-first century. To be clear, this is a novel and Stanley uses some artistic license and imagination, but his imagination is at least plausible regarding the archaeology of first century Pergamum.

One thing I appreciate out the story told in these novels is that early Christians like Paul or the other apostles do not appear in person in the books. There are a few characters that mention Paul as a controversial person, but this is not an overt attempt to tell the story of Paul’s mission or even Christian origins. Stanley’s emphasis is on the pervasive role of Roman religion in the world of the first century.

From the very first pages of A Rooster for Asklepios, Stanley describes household worship and Roman worship and devotion to their gods. His goal for the trilogy is to expose readers to ancient worldviews and realities of life for ordinary people in ancient Greco-Roman society and not to create an evangelistic Christian story. In the course of the novel, the reader encounters more Jews than Christians. Stanley describes Jewish attitudes toward Roman religious practice and shows how alien the Diaspora Jews would have seemed to their Roman neighbors.

The plot of A Rooster for Asklepios follows a slave named Marcus, a household manager for a wealthy Roman citizen, Lucius Coelius Felix. The book begins in Pisidian Antioch with the announcement Claudius has ascended to heaven (i.e., died) and the new Emperor Nero has taken the throne. This dates the beginning of the story to October 13, in A.D. 54. Lucius suffers with some sort of debilitating stomach ailment. He attempts to find relief through a local doctor and the local temple of Asklepios. After bringing a rooster to offer as a sacrifice, he is permitted to sleep the Temple and is told a by a priest the god wants him to travel to Pergamum and visit the Asklepion. The bulk of the novel narrates this eventful journey via Ephesus to the famous healing center at Pergamum.

There are several memorable sub-plots which illustrate aspects of the Roman world of the first century. First, Lucius’s son competes in the local games honoring Men Askaenos.  Men is the moon god, and the name Men Askaenos is the version of the god worshiped in Pisidian Antioch. Stanley’s detailed description of the way a Roman citizen was expected to take part in the festival illustrates how important local gods were to a community. It is virtually impossible for Lucious not to attend the festival and be an excellent host for other wealthy Roman citizens. As I read this section of the novel, I could not help but relate this to Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and the struggle that congregation faced as residents of a Greco-Roman city like Corinth. In addition, the descriptions of the games themselves clear up many misconceptions of how athletes competed in the ancient world, including unfair play and cheating.

A second important feature of the book is Stanley’s descriptions of travel in the bid-first century A.D.  To travel from Pisidian Antioch to Ephesus and then on to Pergamum not only too a great deal of time, but a great deal of planning. Lucius must prepare not only a wagon in which he and his wife can travel comfortably, but also a second wagon to bring food and wine, money and even camping supplies. Before leaving his home, Lucius collects letters of introduction to people of proper status along the way who might open their homes to him and his entourage. An important Roman citizen like Lucius would not stay in the typical roadside inn! It is hard not to read the travel sections of the book without thinking about Paul’s travels along similar roads. Did Paul have letters of recommendation to open doors to homes as he traveled? Would Paul have an entourage similar to Lucius? This may explain why he traveled with so many people, there was safety in numbers (and more people to handle the baggage).

Asklepion Theater Peramum

A third feature I found important is Stanley’s description of the Asklepion. In some respects, an Asklepion is like a medical clinic. A wealthy, sick person like Lucius has access to the best physicians while living at the Asklepion.  However, these medical skills are combined with worship of Asklepios and quite a bit of showmanship. Stanley vividly describes the first-century state-of-the-art medical procedures, but also the aspects of the Asklepion which are more like a mystery cult. When Lucius finally has the chance to sleep inside the temple and perhaps receive a dream from the god, the slave Marcus witnesses how the priests manipulate the sick into thinking they have had encounters with the god in their dreams.

I will not spoil the plot too much, but since the second book brings Lucius and Marcus to healing waters of Hierapolis, things do not go as planned at the Asklepion. The god is not quite the savior Lucius was expecting.

There is a second book in the series, A Bull for Pluto. Leaving Pergamum, Lucius and Marcus travel to Hierapolis on their home to visit the healing waters of the city and the mysterious Temple of Pluto. (I will post a review when I finish reading it.) Stanley says the first two books come to a satisfactory conclusion and can be read as together without waiting for the third planned volume.

Stanley maintains a website for A Slave’s Story with plot summaries and a generous five-chapter sample of both books. More important, the website has links to background material relating to the locations described in the novels. Under resources there are links to images, maps, blogs and other items of interest conveniently organized by the sections of the book. This site addresses one frustration for me as I read the novels. I wanted more documentation! Several times I wanted to check the footnotes to see what primary sources Stanley followed for a particular practice. Most readers will want to browse this site as they read the novels.

Conclusion. Although this is a challenging book compared to other recent scholarly novels for the New Testament, it is one of the best. Stanley has created an interesting plot line which is rich in details illustrating the Greco-Roman world of mid-first century Asia Minor. I highly recommend this book for people who are planning on visiting Turkey since most of the “Seven Churches” tours or Pauline Missionary Journeys tours include Pergamum and Ephesus. Like The Source, Christopher Stanley’s A Slave Story offers modern readers a detailed and accurate presentation of the culture and worldview of the Greco-Roman world.

 

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

Book Review: Helen K. Bond, The First Biography of Jesus

Bond, Helen K. The First Biography of Jesus: Genre and Meaning in Mark’s Gospel. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2020. 317 pp. Hb; $42.99.   Link to Eerdmans 

In The First Biography of Jesus Bond argues the Gospel of Mark is a very specific reception of earlier Jesus tradition. The Gospel of Mark is an ancient biography and as such, the author actively re-appropriated and reconfigured selected material in circulation at the time into a formal literary creation (5). By imposing a biographical structure on this tradition, Mark extended the Christian gospel beyond the death and resurrection of Jesus, so it now included his ministry as well.

Bond, The First Bio of JesusThe first three chapters of the book begin with a survey scholarship on Mark as Bios. In general, she assumes Mark was written from Rome after the Jewish War in the mid-70s CE. Yet the Mark still retains the “air of persecution” from Nero’s brutal attacks of Christians in 65 CE. Nothing in her book depends on these identifications (9). Early form critics described the gospels as a unique phenomenon in literature quite different from other ancient histories and biographies. By the 1970s scholars began to look for antecedents to the gospels, sometimes by drawing comparisons to Philo’s Life of Moses of the works of Josephus. Since the work of Richard Burridge (What are the Gospels?; Cambridge, 1992), scholars have once again described Mark as bios, an ancient biography. After surveying much of this literature, Bond observes that nobody really answers the “so what?” question. If Mark is a biography rather than a history or a theological treatise or a letter, what difference does it make for the reading of the book? (37).

Answering this “so what?” question drives the rest of this volume. For example, Bond suggests Mark may have wanted to challenge his readers, “to jolt them out of their complacency or to encourage a subtle new way of articulating their story” (109). Later she suggests Mark’s extension of the gospel to include Jesus’s life and ministry was intended to “encourage his audience to recommit their lives not do a set of theological ideas but specifically to the person of Jesus… Jesus is not only the proclamation but also the model of Christian discipleship” (166).

Bond then surveys ancient bioi, focusing especially on the role in the educational system: biography was used to teach morality. “at the heart of biography was a concern with character or what Plutarch calls ‘the signs of the souls of men’ (Alexander 1.3)” (151). This is especially true in her biography describes the character’s death. She surveys a wide range of ancient biographies which focuses on heroic “good deaths” of their characters. A good death is the crowning point of a virtuous life. A good death had a ripe old age may signal and endorsement of a philosopher’s way of life. However, there are a few philosophers who are remembered positively even though they met what an ancient reader might consider a “bad death” such as Socrates or Zeno. This is an obvious difference in Mark’s gospel. Mark does not describe Jesus’s death as noble or “conventionally honorable.” Rather, he portrays Jesus’s death as conforming to his countercultural teaching. Like a good philosopher, Jesus has a fitting death, which a fitting conclusion to his earlier way of life (250).

Are ancient biographies historically accurate? If the goal is to describe a great man’s character as positively as possible in order to teach morality, and perhaps some historians exaggerated or idealized their subjects. Bond cites Cicero, who suggested a historian had to stick to the truth, but a biographer could take liberties with the facts (67).  She surveys several studies which confirm the passion that biography is prone to slip into fiction. Since biographies rely upon anecdotes, this increases the possibility of an accuracy. Apocryphal stories circulate despite having questionable historical foundations. She ultimately concludes that the purpose of an ancient biography was not to provide an accurate list of everything the subject did or said, but to “labor the essence of the man, to re-create a living character” (71). Bond interacts briefly with a view of Craig Keener who argued ancient biography on the whole “tended to put a high value on historical accuracy” (67, n. 108).  Keener repeats this view in his recent Christobiography (Eerdmans, 2020), “some biographies from the early empire this warrant more respect his historical sources then do others,” those composed close to living memory of the subject are more historical (17). Unfortunately, Bond’s book was complete when Christobiography, so she could not interact with Keener more fully.

After describing the general contours of an ancient bioi, Bond then argues Mark is a biographer. In this chapter she describes what can be known about the writer of Mark. She also attempts to describe Mark’s audience, his “Christ-following readers.” This description implies the gospel was written for insiders, people who already knew what Christian terms meant. The gospel uses Christian terms and well-known characters without any explanation or introduction. At least initially, the gospel was not written for evangelistic reasons.

The next three chapters survey the life (ch, 4) and death (ch. 6) of Jesus. Beginning with the opinion of Aristotle that “actions are a sign of character,” Bond observes people in antiquity did not rely upon the judgment of the narrator to best appreciate a character, but rather “observing a person’s words and deeds” (121). Most ancient bioi collected anecdotes and maxims and allow the readers to form their own opinions. Bond moves through the ministry of Jesus and compares Mark’s presentation of Jesus to the bioi.

Although Mark does not seem to be interested in Jesus is early years, the gospel uses a similar method of characterization. The audience is “not merely hearing stories, but watching the protagonist as events unfold” (123). Mark therefore collected miracles, conflict stories, and questions about Jesus’s identity in the first half of his book. The second section of the Gospel contains teaching on discipleship and travel to Jerusalem, leading up to the passion. For Bond, Mark included these stories point out that Jesus is not merely the focus of Christian proclamation but the model for Christian discipleship (166). The crucifixion was an attempt by authorities not only to destroy Jesus’s body, but remove his memory. Bond argues that Mark as a biography is an act of defiance; it is a refusal to except the Roman sentence and attempt to shape the way in which both his life and death should be remembered (249).

The fifth chapter examines the “other characters” who populate Mark’s landscape. Here Bond suggests Mark used intercalations, the so-called Markan Sandwich, in order to draw two characters together as a form of synkrisis. Synkrisis is common in histories interested in the moral character of their subjects (174). Bond describes Plutarch as a master of his style, especially in Parallel Lives (176). But these are not formal comparisons in Mark. In fact, she suggests, with the possible exception of one or two disciples, Mark is not interested in any of these characters other than the light they shed light on Jesus. The “walk-ons” and minor characters enable Jesus to do his ministry or perform his miracles or they conspire against him (220).

Conclusion. Bond succeeds in her goal of demonstrating Mark is bios, using the genre of biography to extend the Christian proclamation of the gospel. Since this book is primarily interested in the final form of Mark, it is beyond the scope of the book to treat in any detail early Christian preaching or how oral tradition may (or may not) have been adapted in the Gospel of Mark. Peter’s speech in Acts 10, for example, may be a hint of the process moving from oral proclamation to a written biography.

 

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

Book Review: Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John (PNTC; Second Edition)

Kruse, Colin G. The Letters of John. Second Edition. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2020. 282 pp. Hb; $40.00.   Link to Eerdmans 

Colin Kruse published his original Pillar commentary on the Letters of John in 2000. This second edition brings the bibliography up-to-date, lightly edit the text, and include the NIV 2011 as the English basis of the commentary.

Kruse, Letters of JohnNot much has changed in the introduction to the book. As all commentaries on the Letters of John must do, Kruse sets out a likely scenario for the writing of each of the three letters. Kruse assumes a close relationship between an early form of the Gospel of John and the Letters, and that the Beloved Disciple is responsible for that early version of the book. The beloved disciple is a member of a community of believers in and around episodes in the Roman province of Asia. After the early form of the fourth gospel was written, some members of the community begin to express views about the person and work of Jesus unacceptable to the author of the Letters. This sharp disagreement led to the secession of those who held the new views (1 John 2:19). We’re leaving the community these secessionists organized a group of itinerant preachers to circulate their beliefs among the community’s churches. First John is a circular letter sent to these churches to encourage the readers and (indirectly) challenged the teachings of the secessionists. Kruse suggests the Beloved Disciple died sometime during or after the writing of the three letters, and the final form of the Gospel of John was complete.

The introduction includes a new paragraph drawing several parallels between the letters of John and the Seven Churches in Revelation 2-3 (5). Citing Robert Yarbrough’s 2018 commentary, “there may be a need to rethink the consensus that there is no historical setting for John’s letters.” For Kruse, a case could be made for some o of the seven Asian churches as part of John’s community. Another brief addition is a short paragraph on non-polemical views of the letters (Jobes, following Lieu) and a note to two recent articles.

An addition to this new edition of the commentary is a short summary of the paragraph and the text of the section from the NIV (2011). The body of the commentary proceeds through the text verse by verse, occasionally breaking verses into sub-sections. All Greek appears in transliteration, both in the main text and in footnotes. Kruse’s commentary is expositional, focusing on lexical and theological issues, although occasional textual critical issues appear in the footnotes. The Letters of John are not a difficult grammatically, so Kruse rarely needs to explain difficult syntax. More important in this commentary is John’s usage of words like righteous/just, advocate, faith, antichrist, etc. At the end of each pericope is a new Theology summary for each pericope. These helpful summaries are no more than a page drawing out a few implications of the exegesis.

I noticed several new footnotes interacting with recent articles. For example, commenting on the phrase “born of God” in 1 John 2:28, Kruse has added a note to Menken’s article in Novum Testamentum (2009). The body of the commentary is unchanged by this added note. In another example, Kruse as altered the commentary and added a reference to Roy Ciampa’s 2010 Novum Testamentum article on John 1:7 in Codex Alexandrinus. There are many new footnotes adding a quotation from historic commentaries drawn from the Ancient Christian Commentary (vol. 11, edited by Gerald Bray).

There are a few editorial and cosmetic changes in this new edition. Sections headings are clearer in the introduction. The text describing rhetorical categories is reformatted and much easier to read. The outline for the 1 John is also reformatted so the chiastic structure is clear. In the first edition, words drawn from the verse were printed in bold, the second edition abandons this practice (except on pages 55-7 and the top of page 67). I noticed the early edition started sentences with “1 John,” these have been changed to “First John.” The excurses are now numbered and indexed separately (p. ix). There are two new excurses: “A Note on ‘Children,’ ‘Fathers’ and ‘Young Men’” and “A Note on God’s Invisibility.”

Conclusion. This is not a major revision of the original commentary. Since 2000, several major commentaries have appeared: Akin (NAC), Bray (ACCS), Jobes (ZEBTC), Parsenios (PCNT), Smalley (WBC, revised edition) and Yarbrough (BENTC). Other than Bray’s Ancient Christian Commentary, these new commentaries appear only rarely in the notes. Jobes is not listed in the index of modern authors at all, although she appears in at least one footnote. However, this new edition uses the New International Version (2011). Unlike the original edition, the text of each pericope appears before the commentary section.

 

Other volumes reviewed in this series:

James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Luke
Colin Kruse, Romans
Mark A. Seifrid, The Second Letter to the Corinthians
Robert W. Yarbrough, The Letters to Timothy and Titus
Peter T. O’Brien, Hebrews (No longer available from the publisher)

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