Book Review: John D. Harvey, A Commentary on Romans

Harvey, John D. A Commentary on Romans. Kregel Exegetical Library. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2020. 400 pp. Hb; $36.99. Link to Kregel Academic

Harvey consciously geared this commentary to non-academics. His goal is to assist readers of Romans who are active pastors, teachers, and Bible students. There is no detailed history of interpretation, no deep dive into extra biblical literature, no closely argued discussions of finer points of Greek verb tenses, and no extensive comments on textual criticism. Readers interested in these issues should consult his Romans: Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (B&H Academic, 2017). Although his bibliography includes commentaries since 1965, his main lights are commentaries by Cranfield (ICC, 1980), Dunn (WBC, 1988), Jewett (Hermenia, 2007), Longenecker, (NIGTC 2016), Moo (NICNT, 1996), and Schreiner (BECNT, 1998). Moo and Schreiner have both published second editions since the completion of Harvey’s commentary.

Harvey, Commentary on RomansHe explains his exegetical methodology as answering three questions about each verse (p. 10). First, what did Paul say? Second, why did he say it? And third, what should I do with it? For more detailed methodological issues, readers should consult his Interpreting the Pauline Letters (Kregel Academic, 2012).

In the 40-page introduction, he argues Paul wrote the entire letter from Corinth in A.D. 56-57. He provides several pages of background for a letter, including a brief historical, social, cultural, and religious setting for Christianity in the city of Rome in the middle of the first century. He believes the audience as both Jews and Gentiles and that the letter addressed as a “cluster of issues.” The introduction also includes several pages and charts on genre and structure of Romans, including a brief look at the rhetoric of the letter.

Each section of the commentary begins with a fresh translation of the text with notes with brief textual critical issues and syntactical observations. These observations include grammatical categories but only rarely make reference to advanced grammars (those details are often found in his Exegetical Guide). Following this translation, Harvey sets the context and structure of the pericope in the overall outline of Romans. This is followed by a brief statement of the basic message of the section and detailed exegetical outline. Following this outline, he offers an explanation of the text, usually covering several verses at a time. In the body of the commentary Greek appears in parentheses without transliteration. Almost all interactions with commentaries appears in the footnotes. This makes for a concise commentary that does indeed focus on what Paul said and why did he say it?” Following the explanation of the text, Harvey makes a few comments under the heading Theology and Appropriation.” In this section he comments on biblical-theological issues in order to answer his third question, “what should I do with it?” In most cases, Harvey concludes with the words “Paul’s primary purpose for including his paragraph…”

Harvey translates the phrase διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ Romans 3:22 “by faith in Jesus Christ” and τὸν ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ. in verse 26 as “the one who is of faith in Jesus.” He states both genitives are objective (p. 127). He does not enter into the scholarly discussion of pistis christou other than a footnote pointing to Schreiner’s discussion and conclusion in favor of the objective genitive.

The same is true for the meaning of “all sinned” in Romans 5:12. He observes there are five common interpretations and cites additional scholarship in the footnotes (p. 168). Harvey does not wade into the deep waters of the various ways the verse is used in systematic theology. Because his purpose in the commentary is the basic meaning of the text, he concludes “Paul’s primary purpose was to inform his readers that righteousness, acquittal, and life now apply to them because of what Christ has done as certain as sin, condemnation, and death previously applied to them because of what Adam did” (p. 169).

Comparing six major views on the identity of the “I” in Romans 7:2-25, he observes that although the options are bewildering, it is “best not to expend time and energy trying to decide, for example, whether ‘I’ describes Paul before or after his conversion” (p. 199).

The purpose of Romans 9-11 is the fulfillment of God’s plan. He argues God will fulfill his plan and keep his word to Israel, using Israel’s unresponsiveness to show mercy to all. On the controversial issue of what “all Israel” means in Romans 11, Harvey compares six recent commentaries in a chart (with Calvin and Schreiner combined). He agrees with Longenecker that “all Israel” refers to “a large number of elect an ethnic Jews near the end of history” (p. 291).

On the usually controversial issue of Paul’s female coworkers, Phoebe is a woman of high social standing in some wealth who was a leader in the church (p. 376). Like Prisca and Aquila, Andronicus and Junia are a husband and wife ministry team who were well known to the apostles (p.382, citing this Exegetical Guide for the details).

The book ends abruptly on page 400. There is no conclusion, no indices and only a select bibliography (pp 15-20).

Conclusion. There have been several second editions of major commentaries in Romans published in the last few years. Harvey’s commentary is less than half the length of the six major commentaries he works with in this book and it is far less engaged with contemporary Pauline scholarship than Longenecker, Moo, et al. But this should not be considered as a criticism, Harvey’s commentary achieves when it’s set out to accomplish, a simple explanation of what Paul said and why he said it for the busy pastor struggling to prepare Bible classes and sermons or Bible student who wants to go deeper than the average Bible study. This commentary is similar in approach to Grant Osborne’s Romans commentary and should not be compared to recent encyclopedic commentaries on Romans.

Other Reviewed Commentaries in this Series:

Duane Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus

Robert B. Chisholm, A Commentary on Judges and Ruth

Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms. Volume 2 (Psalms 42-89)

Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 3 (Psalms 90-150)

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

Book Review: Jared Compton and Andrew Naselli, Three Views on Israel and the Church: Perspectives on Romans 9-11.

Compton, Jared and Andrew David Naselli. Three Views on Israel and the Church: Perspectives on Romans 9-11. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 2019. 266 pp. Pb; $21.99  Link to Kregel Academic

This is the second volume in Kregel Academic’s Viewpoint series, joining Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews (ed. Herb Bateman, 2007). The relationship of the church and Israel was part of the progressive dispensationalism debate in the 1980s and several edited volumes appeared with sections on the issue. Chad Brand edited a four views book on this topic, Perspectives on Israel and the Church (B&H, 2015). This is the first multi-view book on specifically on the relationship of Israel and the church based solely on Romans 9-11. Each chapter begins by tracing the argument of Romans 9-11, although chapter 11 contains most of the controversial issues.

Michael Vlach represents a traditional dispensationalist view (although he does not use the term) to argue for a future mass conversion of ethnic Israel. Fred G. Zaspel and James M. Hamilton Jr. also argue for a future mass conversion, but one that does not include a role for ethnic Israel. Theirs is a historical premillennialist approach which is informed by biblical theology. In contrast to these similar views, Benjamin Merkle argues Romans 9-11 does not imply a future mass-conversion of ethnic Israel, although a remnant of ethnic Israel will be saved in the future. All of the contributors to this volume work very hard to avoid supersessionism or any hint of the anti-Semitic attitudes of the church for centuries.

Vlach argues Paul understands Israel in in the same way Old Testament prophets did (p. 21). The prophets looked forward to a time when God would act in history to restore his people and he does not see anything in the New Testament that indicates these expectations were canceled or typologically fulfilled in the church. He argues that Paul’s use the Old Testament in these chapters is “largely contextual inconsistent with the intent of the OT prophets” and he does not use typological exegesis to transform Jewish expectations into Christian theology about the church (p. 63). Many readers will recognize this view as dispensationalism, although this is a word Vlach does not use. He also avoids using any language that might sound as if there are two peoples of God, Israel and the Church. In fact, he states “Jesus’s church encompasses both believing Israelites and Gentiles,” but also that “believing Israelites are still identified with Israel as they participate in Jesus’s church” (p. 71).

Zaspel and Hamilton take what they call a biblical-theological approach to Romans 9-11. They argue Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in Christ and in the church. The first coming of Christ fulfilled a new exodus pattern yet they do understand that another iteration of this pattern will occur at Christ second coming. Gentiles in this “inter-advent period” are provoking the Jews to jealousy so that when Jesus returns there will be a mass conversion of Jews who will enter into the millennium (p. 123). The millennium is a step towards the new heaven and a new earth. Therefore, there is both continuity and discontinuity between what God has done for Israel in the past and what he is doing through the church in the present. A portion of this chapter is devoted to describing biblical theology as a kind of “drama of Scripture” which is focused on Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament story. There is certainly weren’t for this in the Paul’s letters since he describes Christ is the Passover (1 Cor. 5:7) or the manna in the wilderness as typologically fulfilled in communion (1 Cor 10:1-4). However, they stop short of saying everything in the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ. Referring to the new exodus patter, they look forward to “yet one more iteration of the pattern at Christ second coming (p. 133).

Merkle does not think Romans 9-11 teaches a future mass-conversion of an ethnic Israel, but rather that there will always be a remnant of Israel until the end of time. The trouble for Merkle is the word “mass.” He does not represent the classic reform position that the church has replaced Israel as God’s people, nor does he want to represent any form of replacement theology. He is adamant the church does not replace Israel (p. 205). He agrees with the view that God has not rejected or abandon ethnic Israel, but he qualifies this with the word “completely” (p. 204). Merkle is the only author contributor to this book who attempts to define typology. Citing David Baker, he defines a type as “a biblical event, person or institution which serves as an example for pattern for other events, persons or institutions” (p. 163). A type is therefore a kind of foreshadowing in historical events (the type) of later, intensified events (the antitype). For Merkle, Israel is the type, and Jesus is the anti-type because he is the fulfillment of Israel; he is the “true Israel” because he fulfills “all did the nation of Israel was to have accomplished” (p. 164).

There are a series of exegetical decisions on nuances of the text on which each position must make a decision. First, what does pleroma mean in Romans 11:12 (Israel’s full inclusion) and 11:25 (the fullness of the Gentiles). Is the word quantitative (a full number) or qualitative (“the fullness”)?

Second, the nature of mystery in 11:25 is a key point. For Merkle, the “mystery” need not be mysterious, since it is a hidden thing now revealed, that there is an interdependence of salvation of Gentiles and Israel (p. 193). For Vlach, this mystery is that Israel has experienced a personal hardening which is allowed the Gentiles to come in to salvation, and this is the manner in which Israel will be (49).

Third, the exact nuance of meaning of “until” (achris hou) in 11:25 is important. Does this phrase imply a change of circumstances, so that after the full number of Gentiles is saved then Israel will be saved? Or does this phrase imply a termination: the partial hardening of Israel continues until the fullness of the Gentiles without any change of circumstances afterward? Vlach argues the normal sense of the phrase is a reversal (p. 50); Merkle takes the phrase as a termination (p. 185).

Fourth, the nuance of meaning of “and so” (kai houtos) in 11:26. Should this be read as temporal (and then all Israel will be saved) or modal (in this manner all Israel will be saved.” It may be the case that this is less of an issue since Vlach admits that either a temporal or a modal view would imply a future conversion of Israel (p. 54).

Fifth, what does Paul mean by “all Israel”? If he has ethnic Israel in mind throughout Romans 9-11, would he shift from ethnic Israel in 11:25 to spiritual Israel in 11:26? For Vlach, Zaspel and Hamilton, Paul means ethnic Israel in both cases, or Merkle, Paul refers to ethnic Israel and “remnant Israel”

Sixth, to what does Paul’s citation of Isaiah 59:20-21 refer? Does “the deliverer with come from Zion” a reference to the second coming or does it refer to Christ as deliverer at the cross? The citation certainly has a future sense, however for Merkle, it does not have a future from the perspective of Paul because for Paul it refers to Jesus, who has already delivered us from the wrath to come at the cross (p. 198).

I will now turn to some evaluation of the volume. One issue which the authors only allude to is the promise to ethnic Israel that they will dwell in the land promised to Abraham in peace and prosperity. If ethnic Israel does experience a future mass conversion, will they (literally) be restored to Israel? This is the traditional dispensational view, although Vlach only alludes to this in his chapter. Although Zaspel and Hamilton think Romans 9-11 looks forward to a future mass conversion, they are not interested in the land promises (p. 136 and Vlach’s response, p. 148-49).

I found it somewhat frustrating that the first two positions were so close. As Compton explains in his conclusion, this was certainly not the intention. There were a number of times  I thought the view of Zaspel and Hamilton was more or less dispensational, albeit in a progressive dispensationalist sense. Vlach certainly does not represent a classic dispensationalist in the Scofield tradition, nor does Merkle represent the classic Reformed position. As such, the viewpoints expressed in the book seem as though there an in-house discussion rather than between opposing positions.

A related second observation: the book would have been improved by including one or two more perspectives on Romans 9-11. For example, the book needs to have a representative of the traditional Reformed position, although finding someone to write a chapter espousing replacement theology might be difficult. Chapters written by representatives of newer views of Paul such as the New Perspective on Paul, the apocalyptic view of Paul, or the “Paul was in Judaism” viewpoint would have broadened the discussion of Romans 9-11 considerably.

Nevertheless, this volume is a welcome contribution to the ongoing discussion of these important chapters in the book of Romans.

 

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

Book Review: Wesley Hill, The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying to Our Father

Hill, Wesley. The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying to Our Father. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2019. 120 pp.; Hb.  $12.99  Link to Lexham Press

Like Ben Meyer’s The Apostles’ Creed, this new book in Lexham’s Christian Essentials series focuses on a well-known and beloved section of Scripture, the Lord’s Prayer. This series intends to cover foundational teachings and practices of the ancient church. Every generation has been nurtured by the practice of prayer, often using the model of the Lord’s Prayer.

Wesley Hill, The Lord's PrayerHill is associate professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry, Ambridge, Pennsylvania. He has previously published Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Zondervan, 2010) and Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters (Eerdmans, 2015).

This short book is a series of meditations on each line of the Lord’s Prayer. In the introduction to the book, “Your Father in Secret,” Hill points out Jesus’s prayer in Matthew 6:5-8 was different than the prayers of the Jewish experts in the law as well as the overly theatrical prayers of the pagan Gentile world. Jesus’s prayer is a template a pattern to follow, a “model for approaching God with childlike confidence that he will hear” (4).

Hill divides the prayer into seven petitions, taking each of the phrases of the prayer in order. In most chapters he relates the petition to several Old Testament texts before setting the words in the overall biblical theology present in the New Testament. For example, when praying “our Father in heaven,” Hill begins with God as Father in Isaiah 64:8 and then relates this to Paul’s use of “abba father” in Galatians and Romans.

Hill’s meditations occasionally make use of classic writers from church history (Augustine, Calvin), modern theologians (Sarah Ruden, Rowan Williams), current events such as the Coptic martyrs beheaded in Libya in 2015, and occasionally pop culture.

Finally, Hill offers a brief coda, “Praying the Lord’s Prayer with Rembrandt.” He reflects on Henri Nouwen’s description of Rembrandt’s painting the Return of the Prodigal Son. In his own practice of prayer, Hill has come to relate each line of the Lord’s Prayer to the image of the son kneeling before the father to beg forgiveness and the compassion of the father as he reaches to embrace his son. By drawing parallels between the Parable of the Prodigal Son, as imagined by the Rembrandt painting, Hill suggests one will find themselves praying the Lord’s Prayer in a new way.

Each book in this series is an attractive 5×7 inch hardback book. However, the book is quite short. There are only slightly over 100 pages in the body of the book, but every chapter begins with three pages of illustration, so the actual page count is much lower. This makes for a quick reading, but perhaps the book could have been edited differently to allow for more space in each of the chapters.

 

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.

Book Review: Jeannine K. Brown and Kyle Roberts, Matthew (Two Horizons Commentary)

Brown, Jeannine K. and Kyle Roberts. Matthew. Two Horizons New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 575 pp. Pb; $38.   Link to Eerdmans

This new addition to the Two Horizons New Testament Commentary series is the first on the Gospels (Scott Spencer’s Luke volume was published in April 2019). Brown and Roberts have contributed an excellent example of theological interpretation Scripture as applied to Matthew the theologian and pastor.

Brown, Roberts, THNTC MatthewIn the introduction to the commentary the authors define what they mean by a theological and interdisciplinary approach to Matthew. The commentary is interested in how Matthew’s narrative theology was derived from his literary rhetoric and was informed by the socio-historical realities of his world (4).

In the introduction to the commentary, Matthew is the implied author (whether he is or not does not matter for a theological reading of the Gospel). The gospel was written to a Jewish audience that believed the Jesus was the Messiah. The authors employ the two-source hypothesis, implying that Matthew must have been written sometime after A.D 70. They take the burning of the city in 22:7 as an allegorical allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem. Since Didache and Ignatius make use of the gospel it cannot be dated later than A. D. 90. The Gospel is divided into three parts based on the phrase Ἀπὸ τότε ἤρξατο in 4:17 and 16:20. After the preparation and identity of Jesus (1:1-4:16), 4:17-16:20 is the announcing of the kingdom of God, 16:21-28:20 concerns Jesus his trip to Jerusalem and the kingdom enacted through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The commentary proper divide Matthew into seven units covered in chapters 2-8.

  • Jesus’s Preparation for Ministry: Matthew 1:1-4:16
  • Jesus Teaches about the Kingdom: Matthew 4:17-7:29
  • Jesus Enacts the Kingdom: Matthew 8:1-11:1
  • Growing Opposition toward Jesus’s Ministry: Matthew 11:2-16:2
  • Jesus Teaches about His Coming Death: Matthew 16:21-20:28
  • Jesus Clashes with Jerusalem Leadership: Matthew 20:29-25:46
  • Jesus’s Passion and Resurrection: Matthew 26:1-28:20

In the body of the commentary Brown introduces each section with a paragraph on the narrative structure and logic followed by a fresh translation. Each pericope is treated as a whole; due to the brevity of the commentary it is impossible to do phrase by phrase or verse by verse. For example, Matthew 5:17-48 are treated in just over five pages. All Greek words appear in transliteration. Although she interacts with other major commentaries, this is done mostly in the footnotes, making for an extremely readable commentary. Brown is not particularly interested in the grammatical or syntactical problems found in the text, and there are only a few occasions when she deals with textual critical issues in the footnotes.

The second part of the commentary is a biblical theology, entitled “Thinking Theologically with Matthew.” In the first chapter of the section lays Roberts lays out his methods for theological engagement with Scripture (ch. 9). He recognizes Matthew’s theological categories are not those of contemporary systematic theology. We need to recognize our own assumptions and pre-readings before approaching Matthew’s gospel. But it is important to understand Matthew’s gospel is inherently theological (268). The gospel writer was already doing theology by working out the implications of the gospel. Each chapter in this section of the book begins with several pages unpacking a theological concept, the move into a reading of a pericope in the light of the theological issue. For example, Roberts reads the Beatitudes through the lens of Matthew’s already/not yet view of the Kingdom.

The second section of the book comprise of four chapters covering an important aspect of Matthew’s theology. First, Roberts deals with the complex and elusive problem of what the kingdom means for Matthew (ch. 10). Robert examines the Old Testament and Second Temple literature and argues Matthew picks up on these trajectories to prove Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus’s kingly identity remains central throughout the gospel. There is an eschatological nature to the kingdom of God, and here Robert highlights the already/not yet of the kingdom in the ministry of Jesus.

Since the kingdom of God cannot be separated from Matthew’s Christology, Roberts devotes the next chapter to Matthew’s Christology (ch. 11). In Matthew, Jesus is the Davidic Messiah, the Torah fulfilled, and wisdom embodied. He is the representative of Israel and by the end of the book is the full embodiment of Yahweh. Three critical moments in the gospel Matthew describes Jesus as “God with us” (1:23, 18:20, and 28:20).

Chapter 12 examines the Holy Spirit in Matthew. Although it is unusual to include the Holy Spirit as a theological theme in the Gospel of Matthew, Roberts traces Matthew’s pneumatology from the baptism through the final lines of the book (the Trinitarian formula in Matt 28:19). Since the Holy Spirit is actively involved in Christian mission, Robert is able to transition into Matthew’s understanding of discipleship (ch. 13). The burden of this chapter is how Matthew communicates discipleship. The reader will learn discipleship from Jesus his actions as well as the various characters who appear throughout the story. For example, Gentiles who have great faith or other seekers who come to Jesus. “Matthew thematizes the identification of Jesus as Isaianic servant whose ministry of teaching and healing, as well as his death and resurrection, embody mercy and justice for Israel and for the nations. This portrait of Jesus as servant sits at the center of Matthew’s meaning of “the gospel of the kingdom” (367).

Finally, Roberts discusses the “Meaning of the Messiah’s Deeds” (ch. 14). Roberts warns against narrowing the theology of the Gospel of Matthew to only the death and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, Matthew introduces the word gospel early (4:23) so that the entire book is “the gospel.” Yet it is true the death and resurrection of Jesus is the “obvious climax to the gospel.” Matthew foreshadows the Passion throughout the gospel. Robert asks whether Matthew has an atonement theology and whether this view supports later theories of atonement as expressed by systematic theology.  He concludes there are aspects of Christus Victor, substitution, and substation theories in the Gospel, but it would be wrong to reduce Matthew’s view to a single theory of atonement.

The final section of the book “Constructive Theological Engagement with Matthew.” After a short introduction to the method for the section, Robert asks “what would be missing from biblical theology if we did not have the contribution of the Gospel of Matthew?” He observes that Matthew’s place in the canon functions as a bridge between the testaments. Matthew looks back to the Old Testament to explain what Jesus does in his death and resurrection. The egalitarian values for the Christian community or a contribution of the Gospel of Matthew. Roberts describes Matthew 18 as “egalitarian in its values and practices” (396).

The last five chapters summarizes how various perspectives read Matthew (feminist Perspectives (ch. 17); Global Perspectives and Liberation Theologies (ch. 18); Reading Matthew Pastorally (ch. 19); Reading Matthew Politically (ch. 20); and Reading Judaism Ethically in the Post-Holocaust Era (ch. 21). Most commentaries would be written from the one of these perspectives. For example, there are many approaches to Matthew that read Jesus as a political activist, and that the gospel is generally anti-imperial. By including a chapter on each perspective, the reader is provided with multiple lenses to understand the Gospel of Matthew.

Conclusion. This commentary by Brown and Roberts is an excellent example of a theological commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. The commentary portion provides solid exegesis of the text without being lost in the details of grammar and syntax. The wide ranging theological articles included in the second half of the volume will stimulate readers to think more deeply about Matthew’s contribution to biblical and systematic theologies.

 

Reviews of other commentaries in this series:

 

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 Byron, A Week in the Life of a Slave

Byron, John. A Week in the Life of a Slave. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2019. 160 pp. Pb; $16.  Link to IVP Academic

John Byron is professor of New Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio and is well-known for his publications on slavery in the Roman world. His Slavery Metaphors in Early Judaism and Pauline Christianity: A Traditio-historical and Exegetical Examination (WUNT/2 162; Tubingen: Mohr-Seibeck, 2003) is a major contribution to the study of slavery in the New Testament and his article “The Epistle to Philemon: Paul’s Strategy for Forging the Ties of Kinship” in Jesus and Paul: Global Perspectives in Honor of James D. G. Dunn for his 70th Birthday (London: T&T Clark, 2009) laid the foundation for this academic novel. As with the other contributions in the Week in the Life series from IVP Academic, Byron is a world-class scholar who knows his material every well as he spins an engaging tale. 

Byron, A Day in the Life of a SlaveByron focuses this book on one particular slave, Onesimus, the escaped slave in the background of Paul’s letter to Philemon. In order to make the plot line work, Byron suggests Paul was imprisoned in Ephesus when he wrote Philemon rather than Rome. His guards at his prison are Christians and they facilitate Paul’s continued ministry while under arrest and also arrange for the escaped slave Onesimus to meet with Paul in his prison cell several times. Since the series books are supposed to place in one week, Paul must be in prison some place close enough to Colossae for Onesimus to escape, travel to Paul and then return to his master within one week. This would simply be impossible if Paul was in prison in Rome. 

In addition to illustrating some aspects of the life of a slave in the Roman world, Byron also suggests how stories about Jesus may have passed between various local churches. He imagines how congregations in Ephesus, Laodicea, and Colossae worshiped together and how the owner of the home hosting a gathering may have had some influence on how the church functioned. Example, in the novel one church permitted slaves to worship alongside free people, but another church did not. This is an excellent illustration of how the Pauline view of equality within the body of Christ had a real-world impact on people. At one point the slave Onesimus is amazed that a master and his slave worship equally and that some masters treat their slaves with respect during the church service.

As with the other contributions to the series, Byron supplements the novel with many sidebars explaining some aspect of slavery in the Roman world. For example, Byron includes information on sexuality and marriage among slaves, how an individual might become a slave, the exposure of infants, slave names, the practice of manumission, etc. Given Byron’s academic interests, he includes almost two pages on slave metaphors in the New Testament. He has a page on the use of slavery or freedom in the New Testament and a two-page note on letters of mediation in antiquity, including the famous letter from Pliny as background for the letter Paul sent to Philemon mediating the situation between Onesimus and his master. 

I will not give away the plot (as if you haven’t read the book of Philemon before), but I do have one concern about this book. Because it focuses on a suggested plot line in the background of Philemon, there are many things about slavery that are not covered in this book. I was expecting a week in the life of a generic Roman slave rather than the story of Onesimus and Philemon. I interacted with John Byron on slavery in the Roman world in this post, and was hoping the book would be more along those lines. Because the book of Philemon is so brief, it generates more than its fair share of fictional narrative and we may not need yet another novel about Philemon. 

Nevertheless, A Week in the Life of a Slave is a very good introduction to slavery in the Roman world. Byron told an entertaining story, which illustrates how the early church may have function in the city of Ephesus, Laodicea, and Colossae. Most readers will be both entertained and educated in this short book.

For reviews of other volumes in this series, see my reviews of James L. Papandrea, A Week in the Life of Rome and Gary M. Burge, A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion. Although not part of this series, see Ben Witherington, Priscilla: The Life of an Early Christian and Paula Gooder, Phoebe.

 

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.

 

2 Timothy 4:6-8 – Paul’s Last Words

Despite his certain execution, Paul knows that he has been faithful to his calling from God. Paul describes himself as already “being poured out like a drink offering.” This is a particularly vivid image that anyone in the ancient world would understand.

The verb is a single word (σπένδω) usually translated as the phrase “poured out like a drink offering.” This refers to pouring wine (or water) onto the altar as the main sacrifice was being burned. In Num 15:24, for example, a sacrifice is a “pleasing aroma to the Lord” and is accompanied by an offering of wine and grain as well. A drink offering is never the main sacrifice, it is one that is given along with the main sacrifice.

Good FightPaul used this same word in Phil 2:17 in a similar context, he refers to his life as a kind of sacrifice that accompanies the “main sacrifice.” In Philippians 2:17, the main sacrifice is the faith of the Philippian church. Here in 2 Tim 4:6 Paul does not specify the main offering. Perhaps he is thinking of Jesus as the main sacrifice for sin, and the martyrdom of the believer as that which accompanies the main sacrifice.

He uses three metaphors to describe his faithfulness to his commission. In each of these three lines Paul emphasizes the object, “the fight, I fought, the race, I finished, the faith, I kept.”

The phrase “fought the good fight” is common in contemporary English, but usually it refers to making a very good effort. But the adjective “good” modifies the noun, so it is a “good fight.” Paul’s point is that is life was like a long boxing match, but the reason for the fight was good and anyone who takes up that fight after he departs will also be “fighting a good fight.” It is the task to which Paul was called was good, as opposed to the false teachers who also fight (about words, etc.). They are “fighting the pointless fight.”

The second metaphor is also sports-related. Paul has “finished the race.” Looking ahead at the end of this section, Paul knows that he has competed well and will have his reward when he stands before the judge.

Third, looking back on his ministry, Paul can say he has “kept the faith.” This ought to understood of what the “faith” means in 2 Timothy. He has not qualified or compromised his doctrine in the face of persecution.

Paul was prepared to preach his gospel whenever and wherever he was called, he was ultimately committed to “discharge the duties of a minister of the gospel.” Even in his death, Paul is setting himself up for Timothy as an example. Being faithful to the Gospel is dangerous and may very well put Timothy in same sort of imprisonment Paul is facing at this moment.

In fact, Paul has already been “rescued from the lion’s mouth,” despite no one coming to his defense (vv. 16-17). The “earlier defense” could refer to the end of the book of Acts, Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome. But Paul seems to be referring to more recent events, so it is likely that he has in mind a preliminary trial after his second arrest in Rome, perhaps just after the Fire of Rome.

The reference to being saved from the “mouth of the lions” could be literal, but if it is it means that he was not thrown to the lions when he might have been. It is not the case that he was in the arena about to be killed and somehow he was rescued. Think of this as someone who is acquitted from a capital offense “escaping the hangman’s noose.” The important fact is that God rescued him despite the fact that no human came to his defense.

Finally, Paul looks forward to standing before his Lord “in that Day. ”The “day” refers to the moment when Paul stands before the judgment seat of Christ and receives a victor’s crown. That he is “in Christ” qualifies him to stand there, not the fact that he ran the race well or that he finished the race to which he was called

Paul will receive a “crown of righteousness.” This is the natural metaphor that follows from the use of a race or a boxing match a few lines before. But is this righteousness a description of the crown, or is righteousness itself the reward? Typically we focus on justification as righteousness given to the believer in Christ at the moment of salvation, in other texts Paul looks at our ultimate justification (being made righteous) at the resurrection (Gal 5:5).

Paul’s final words to Timothy focus on the Gospel. Like Timothy, we must continue being faithful to our calling and stand on the foundation of Scripture, clearly proclaiming the gospel. This is the “good fight” to which we have all been called.

2 Timothy 3:13-15 – Avoiding Self-Deception

MontebankThe opponents in Ephesus stand in contrast to Paul’s record of suffering (v. 13) It is Paul and Timothy’s opponents who are the imposters. The noun (γόης) Paul uses here is a common way to describe an opponent in a philosophical debate. The noun originally referred to a sorcerer (T.Sol 19:3 uses it for a witch, Herodotus, Hist. 7.791.2 for magicians, sometimes it refers to a “juggler,” [Aeschines, Ctes. 137], presumably because they do some sort of distracting act while they pick the pockets of the crowd.).

By the first century this word was used to describe a swindler or a con-man who used some kind of deception to gain a profit from his audience. I think of the character from old Western movies, the “snake oil salesman.” The Greek writer Demosthenes used the word in this sense: “for fear I should mislead and deceive you, calling me an artful speaker, a mountebank, an impostor, and so forth” (Dem., 18 276).

Ironically, these deceivers succeed in deceiving themselves! This is also a common way of describing sophists and charlatans in Greco-Roman world (Dio Chrysostom, Orations, 4.33). The way to avoid these sorts of people is proper “divine” education (4.29).

Dio Chrysostom, Orations 4.33 If, however, he falls in with some ignorant and charlatan sophist, the fellow will wear him out by leading him hither and thither, dragging him now to the east and now to the west and now to the south, not knowing anything himself but merely guessing, after having been led far afield himself long before by impostors like himself.

Similarly, the way to avoid the self-deceptive teaching of the opponents in Ephesus is to devote oneself to divine teaching through the Scripture which has been given by God.

Paul encourages Timothy to “continue in what he has learned” from the Scriptures (vv. 14-15). Timothy was trained in the scripture from a young age. Jewish family, reading the Old Testament in Greek (most likely). While the opponents are progressing into more esoteric “deep” knowledge, Timothy is told to remain where he is. He has already learned the truth and has been convinced that it is the truth. There is no need for him to dabble in the “myths and genealogies” of the opponents.

The Jews regularly referred to their scriptures as “sacred writings,” Paul can only have in mind here the Old Testament. At this point in history it is unlikely that the Gospels were circulating as Scripture, perhaps Paul’s churches cherished his letters as authoritative. But the New Testament as we know it simply does not exist yet!

Paul says Timothy was “raised on the Old Testament.” We know that his mother was Jewish and it is likely that he was taught the Old Testament, perhaps having some training in the Septuagint and Hebrew Bible in a synagogue. I doubt that Paul selected Timothy as a missionary companion if he was totally ignorant of the Bible prior to coming to faith in Jesus!

The remedy for self-deception, for Paul, is an absolute reliance on the Scripture for faith and practice. While the opponents in Ephesus pursue fruitless “myths and genealogies” Timothy is to remember what the Scriptures plainly teach and pursue righteousness.

I suspect if people actually read the Bible, they would not tolerate the sort of “teaching” that passes for popular Christian preaching!

2 Timothy 3:10-12 – Why did Paul Suffer?

In contrast to the false teachers, Paul lists his own suffering as an example of what will happen to anyone that wants to live a godly life (vv. 10-12). This is somewhat surprising for contemporary Christians who are fed a steady diet of “health and wealth” gospel: if you are really spiritual and doing everything God requires, you will be blessed, you will be happy, healthy and wealthy. That teaching is the exact opposite of Paul’s point in this passage.  Paul knows that his Gospel is the truth because he has suffered physically as a result of his preaching of Jesus.

It might seem odd, but Paul recalls his first missionary journey as an example of his suffering. He specifically has in mind the persecution he faced in Asia Minor (Acts 14). In Antioch, Paul is opposed by Jews from the Synagogue, who follow him to Iconium to harass him. Paul was attacked in Lystra, stoned and left for dead (Acts 14). Perhaps these persecutions were chosen because he was “left for dead,” or perhaps this period continued to haunt him in his ministry for some time.

Paul StonedWhile that physical attack was important, Paul has in mind the constant treat from the Jewish community throughout that first journey as well as the threats to his churches reflected in the book of Galatians.  The attack on Paul’s character reflected in Paul’s early letters may have been more painful than the physical pain he faced in Lystra.  It appears that some of Paul’s opponents described him as unqualified to preach the gospel (Gal 1) or worse, as a charlatan (1 Thess 2, for example).

A potential problem with this review of Paul’s ministry is that it all occurred on the first missionary journey, before Timothy began to travel with Paul (Acts 15). This is used to argue the letter of 2 Timothy is a pious forgery. The writer introduced a historical error by saying Timothy witnessed these events himself. On the other hand, Timothy was from Lystra himself and joined Paul mission with the full knowledge that Paul is often persecuted physically and opposed by very powerful people where ever he preaches the Gospel!

Paul states very clearly everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. This is a common theme throughout the New Testament: Jesus was persecuted and so too will his followers face similar trials.  Galatians 5:11 indicates that Paul was persecuted because he was preaching that the Gentiles were not under the Law.  The immediate background is his troubles in Asia Minor to which he alludes here in 2 Timothy (cf. Rom 8:35, 1 Cor 4:12, 2 Cor 4:9, 12:10, Gal 4:29, 5:11, 2 Thess 1:4).

If Timothy’s desire is to live a godly life, he will in fact face some sort of trial or  persecution.  Paul knows that Timothy is at the moment facing a difficult time because of the false teachers in Ephesus, even if that has not developed into a physical persecution at this point. This text is clear that the one who is “in Christ” will suffer like Christ.  Perhaps this is an indication that the opponents in Ephesus are not really “in Christ,” they simply do not suffer!

Imagine what would happen in Evangelical Christianity if people really believed they should suffer for Jesus rather than expecting to be wealthy because of their faith. When was the last time you took a rock to the head because of your faith in Jesus?

2 Timothy 2:14-15 – Present Yourself as an Approved Workman

Timothy is to present himself as an approved workman (v. 14-15, 22). Paul’s metaphor here is of a worker presenting himself before his supervisor. The verb (σπουδάζω) has the sense of hurried activity, eagerness or zealousness (BDAG). Perhaps someone who is doing a job will conscientiously, working hard to make sure that it is done properly.

WorkmanAn approved workman might be someone who has been trained and “qualified” as a craftsman. The noun ἐργάτης is often an agricultural laborer (Matt 9:37, “fields,” 20:1, vineyard), but in Acts 19:25 it refers to craftsmen in a kind of guild. As an approved workman, Timothy is no longer an apprentice, still a student under a master. He is an approved worker who has been examined by a master and given an approval by that master.

Timothy is to present himself before God as an approved workman. We might have expected Paul to set himself up as the example since he has done this several times. But here the ultimate “approval” of a minister’s work is God himself.

Timothy ought to do his ministry in a way that does not cause him to be ashamed. Anyone who has done a work that involved a skill has probably said, ‘yeah, that is not my best work.” In the case of a craftsman going before a master for review, the worker will want to do their very best work possible so that they will not experience shame when their work is tested.

What would possibly cause Timothy shame? Possibly his youth, since Paul has already told him to not allow anyone to look down on him for his your (2 Tim 2:15). But it is also possible that his association with Paul is shameful. Paul’s opponents may have made the point that Paul is in prison and no longer under the blessing of God. If Timothy is Paul’s successor, then perhaps they are trying to shame Timothy by associating him with Paul’s “failure.” Paul certainly does not consider his imprisonment a shameful state, but a well-trained Greco-Roman orator could have used this to their advantage. Perhaps the opponents were able to pick apart Timothy’s teaching the way a Sophist might destroy an enemy’s rhetoric, causing Timothy public shame. In any case, Timothy is told to do his work in such a way that he will not be ashamed by his own efforts.

In order to be approved, Timothy is to “correctly handling” God’s word. What happened to rightly dividing? The Greek word (ὀρθοτομέω) is very rare and is the combination of the word for straight (ὀρθός) and the verb for cutting (τέμνω), hence the KJV’s “rightly dividing.” When the word is used with a road in mind, it means “cut a road across country (that is forested or otherwise difficult to pass through) in a straight direction” (as in Thuc. 2, 100, 2 although the compound is not used there, BDAG).

In the context of 2 Timothy, the word has to been “correctly interpret” the Word of God. If Timothy is a craftsman, his “material” is the Word of God. Imagine a sculptor who is submitting a piece to Art Prize; the create a beautiful statue to display outside some building downtown. But they use the wrong material, instead of clay or stone or wood, they used sugar. The first time it rains, the sculpture will melt away into nothing (or a bunch of ants will come along and eat it!) Paul’s point here is that if Timothy is going to be an approved workman, he is going to need to know how to work with his materials in such a way as to present a finished product that will please the master.

There are many examples of people who are not well educated and try to interpret the Bible in new and exciting ways (and they tend to find their way to the internet and YouTube). For example, It is easy to pull a few verses out of the Old Testament, combine them with some conspiracy theory and fears about the government, and somehow prove the present administration is the Anti Christ or that immigration reform will lead to the End Times and the Mark of the Beast. Or something like that.

Does this mean that only the seminary-trained professional scholar should attempt to read the Bible? That is not Paul’s point at all; Timothy is the “professional” in his situation and his responsibility is to give a gentle answer when someone suggests a reading of the Bible that is in error.

In summary, this section begins with Paul commanding Timothy to seek his approval from God as if he were a worker looking for approval from his master. In order to gain that approval, Timothy must correctly handle his materials, in this case the word of God.

2 Timothy 2:1–2 – Strengthened by Grace

Paul wants Timothy to find strength in the grace he has already received from Jesus. This strengthening is continual. Like taking vitamins, one does not take vitamins for a few days and then quit; you would just get weak and sickly again. It is the regular use of vitamins that build up some health and strength.

Popeye and SpinachWhy does Timothy need to be strengthened? He is suffering some sort of hardship, probably from within his churches. He is likely attacked for being too young, probably those who have defected from Paul see him as Paul’s deputy and therefore suspect, and he is possibly suffering some physical problems as well (“take a little wine for your stomach’s sake” might imply illness).

How does this strengthening happen? Paul gives no steps, but only states that it is “by grace in Christ Jesus.” This may seem a bit frustrating to the modern Christian since we would have preferred “ten steps to being strong in Jesus” at this point in the letter. Our relationship with Christ is not a series of hoops we have to jump through or achievement badges we earn. Our relationship with God in Jesus is more like a parent-child relationship. We do not start our at level one and work our way up to level ten, we are wholly a child of God from the moment we accept Christ as our savior.

Once again Timothy is simply told “be what you are,” a child of God. That status alone is the source of his strength – he can do all things through Christ (Phil 4:13).

In order to strengthen the whole church, Timothy is to pass along the things he has already heard from Paul to people who can be trusted to pass it along to a third generation. This is the chain of tradition we have already encountered in 2 Timothy. To whom is the tradition to be passed on? Paul calls the “faithful,” with the sense of trustworthy (sense of “competent, qualified and able”). By analogy, there are some people who you might think are reliable enough to house sit for you. If you get an untrustworthy person, then when you come home, your plants are dear and your pets are starved because they forgot to carry out their responsibility.

What is remarkable here is that Paul sets himself up as a standard, what Timothy heard from Paul in front of many reliable witnesses is to be passed along. This is like saying, make sure they know the standard Pauline sermon. That is foundational to everything else! This is not private teaching, or some sort of speculative teaching, but the sorts of things that Paul has always taught as truth and everyone knows is the core of the gospel.

The others who receive this tradition will teach in the future. Paul is not thinking of Timothy’s generation, but the people Timothy will disciple and prepare for ministry, they will be waning people that will be born long after Paul and Timothy are dead! This is really what all church work is about, preparing the next generation for serving Christ. Perhaps the reason that churches die is that they did not prepare the next generation to preserve to the Gospel.

Paul certainly would include lay leaders here, but looking ahead to the metaphors which follow, he has some kind of specialized training in mind. Not everyone is called to be a soldier nor should everyone train to be a soldier.

Just because you watched war movies does not qualify you to be an officer in the military. Sadly, many Christians think that watching YouTube sermons qualify them to be pastors, often leading to disaster!