The traditional view is that the Roman church was founded by both Peter and Paul. Few accept this tradition today. The story of Peter’s arrival in the second year of Claudius (A.D. 42) is found in Eusebius (H.E. 2.14.6). Peter followed Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8) and answers his false teaching. According to Eusebius, the Gospel Peter preached at this time was so well received the Roan people demanded a written copy, which became the Gospel of Mark. That the church was founded by Peter and Paul refers to the fact they both eventually ministered in the city and were both buried there (Irenaeus, Haer. 3.1 – “while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church…”

paul-in-romeThe consensus view is that the church was founded by believers who returned to Rome after Pentecost. Jews had contact with Rome as early as 160 B.C. According to 1 Macc 8:17-22, the Judas Maccabees sent an embassy to Rome in order to secure “establish friendship and alliance.” Pompey brought Jews captured at Jerusalem to Rome in 63 B.C. (Anitq. 14.4.5) and by the time Romans was written the Jewish population in Rome may have been as high as 50,000. Fitzmyer, Romans, 27. Kruse estimates the population of Rome in the mid to late 50s Rome at “about 400,000 made up of slaves (30%) and freed men and women (30%), and freeborn (40%).”

It is also estimated that about 10 percent of the population were Jews.” Kruse, Romans, 1. Keener comments that estimates vary “from perhaps a quarter of a million (extrapolated from water supplies) to over a million for its metropolitan area (extrapolated, in my opinion more reliably, from concrete census figures from ancient historians” (Keener, Romans [Cascade Commentary], 9).  Fitzmyer also argues for at least thirteen synagogues based on inscriptional evidence (Fitzmyer, Romans, 28). In addition to these inscriptions there are thousands of funerary inscriptions in the catacombs.

Jewish Christianity would have come to Rome soon after Pentecost as Jews visiting Jerusalem in 30/33 returned home. Acts 2:10 lists Jews from the city of Rome as present in the crowd at Pentecost and Acts 6:9 mentions the Synagogue of the Freedmen. Although visitors to that synagogue could have come from anywhere, Fitzmyer suggests the members may have been descended from the Jews taken captive by Pompey (Fitzmyer, Romans, 29).

Raymond Brown points out that Christian missionaries coming from Jerusalem were more conservative with respect the Law and the connection of Christianity and Judaism in contrast to Christian missionaries from Antioch, such as Paul (Acts and Galatians support his point; see his Introduction, 562). He observes Paul is far more diplomatic with respect to the Law in Romans, as compared to Galatians. This may indicate the majority of his readers were Jews and more conservative with respect to the role of the Law for the Christian.

There is evidence of Christians in Rome as early as A.D. 49, when Claudius expelled Jews for rioting over “Chrestus,” likely a Latinized form of Christos, the Greek translation of Messiah. Luke refers to this decree in Acts 18:2-4. Soon after arriving in Corinth, Paul meets Aquila and Priscilla, Jewish tentmakers forced to leave Rome by Claudius. It is possible this expulsion of believers in A.D. 49 only effected the Jewish members of the congregation. If this is the case, then the congregation might have been founded by Jews, but is now primarily Gentile God-Fearers. If the church continued to grow, the percentage of Gentiles would have grown in this period.

After the death of Claudius the edit was canceled and Jewish believers could return to Rome, perhaps to discover the Christian congregations were far more Gentile than when they left. The Roman churches to which Paul wrote were therefore a mixture of Jewish and Gentile believers. The churches were not founded by Paul

This consensus view has been challenged because parts of the book seem addressed only to Jews, other sections to Gentiles. There are details in the book that seem to be addressed to Jewish readers, especially in Romans 1-4. On the other hand, there are indications that Gentiles are being addressed in the church. In 11:13, Paul addresses “you Gentiles.”

It is best, therefore, to understand the church as both Jew and Gentile. Paul deals with the shift in God’s program from the Jew to all the world in Romans 9-11, and with some of the difficulties that Jewish-Christian congregations face in chapter 14.

But what difference does it make in reading Romans if the churches are “more Jewish” or “more Gentile”? Does this change the way we might understand certain sections of Romans?

tertius

The Scribal Process: From God, to an author, to a scribe, to the page

In Romans 16:22 Tertius “who wrote this letter” greets the readers. Paul is the author of the letter, but Tertius is the scribe or amanuensis who did the actual writing. The name means “third” in Latin and was a common name for slaves (Jewett, 978). This fact alone does not tell us anything about his social status since some slaves were trained as scribes. Jewett suggests Phoebe provided Paul with Tertius’s services as a scribe as part of her patronage toward Paul and her support for a Spanish mission.

Since Tertius greets the readers of Romans, it is at least possible he was known to Christians in Rome. It is at least possible he was one of the Jews expelled from Rome who found their way to Corinth, like Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:1-4). Jewett builds too much from the mention of Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2, but at the very least we can say Tertius was a skilled scribe, a slave or perhaps former slave and (probably) a Christian.

For Paul to use a scribe to write Romans reflects the normal method for writing a long document, or even a personal letter. An author could dictate to a scribe who would write out the dictation and work with the author to create the final form of the document. For a shorter letter, the author might just provide his personal details and a scribe could create the letter according to the typical letter writing formulas. For example, a younger son writing home to his father asking for more money might pay an amanuensis to create a proper sounding letter in order to gain his fathers favor.

Perhaps it is surprising to learn a book of the Bible was created using typical Greco-Roman methods like this. Christians tend to think biblical books were written in a more mystical fashion. The real problem is this: How much freedom would Tertius have had in the composition of the letter?  Cranfield (Romans, 1:2-5) offers three possibilities (see this post for a collection of views on Tertius):

  1. Tertius took down the letter in longhand from Paul’s dictation. This is least likely, since it is not the common practice in the Roman world, but it also preserves the words as Paul’s alone.
  2. Tertius wrote in shorthand as Paul dictated. The second century writer Origin used this method, according to Eusebius (HE 6.23.2). As Origin lectured, a scribe took down notes and a final copy was made with Origin’s approval.
  3. He more independently composed the letter following directions from Paul or perhaps using notes from Paul. This would be analogous to a ghostwriter used by modern authors.

In most English translations, Tertius greets the Roman believers in 16:22 “in the Lord,” the standard greeting among members of the early church. The phrase may modify the greeting, although it does not immediately follow the greeting.  The Greek phrase follows the word “letter” and the word “Lord” can mean either God or master. If he means master, then it is possible the line should read: “I Tertius, the writer of the master’s letter, greet you.” The master would be Paul. If this is the case, he might not even be a Christian scribe, although my inclination is that he was a Christian and possibly part of Paul’s ministry team. I am intrigued by Jewett’s suggestion he was Phoebe’s slave, but it is hard to see that as anything more than a suggestion.

Regardless of the method he used to create the original document, there is little doubt that Paul wrote the letter to the Romans.

Although almost every commentary on the book of Romans praises it as a masterpiece of Christian theology, there are several recent responses to Paul and Pauline theology which push back against this dominance in the formation of Christian theology. If you google “Jesus vs. Paul” you can find quite a few websites devoted to driving a wedge between Jesus and Paul, some in favor of Jesus, others in favor of Paul.

Some argue Paul ruined the (more pure) religion created by Jesus. For example, Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne published a book calling Christians to follow Jesus. Red Letter Christians focused on the Sermon on the Mount as central to Christian ethics. Their mission is “to take Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and especially embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount.”

Others favor Paul, arguing Paul as the “real founder” of the Christian church. Jesus is more or less ignored in systematic theology, especially from the Reformed perspective. Sometimes Jewish scholars point out that Jesus was a Jewish rabbi who was misunderstood by Paul. Historians who have no theological axe to grind often observe Christianity as we know it is derived from Paul and his letters.

apostleBut there are other more radical views. In 1986, Hyam Maccoby, for example, wrote a book entitled The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity. His thesis is simple: Paul was a radically Hellenized Jew who recycled the mystery cults and Gnosticism into what we call Christianity today. He lied about being a Pharisee and was generally ignorant of what the Hebrew actually taught. Pamela Eisenbaum argues the opposite, in her 2009 Paul as not a Christian. For Eisenbaum, Paul was “unambiguously Jewish—ethnically, culturally, religiously, morally and theologically” (9). Paul was a Jewish teacher and Pharisee who came to believe Jesus was messiah. That belief by itself is not heretical (from a Jewish perspective), even if he was wrong.

Similarly, Dispensationalism is sometimes accused of ignoring Jesus since classic Dispensationalism dismissed the Sermon on the Mount as “future kingdom ethics” and over-emphasized Paul and his letters. For most classic dispensationalists the Sermon on the Mount is the charter for the future millennial kingdom and there is resistance to using the Sermon as a “core” for Christian ethics. This view has nearly died out even among modern dispensationalists, but the division between Jesus and Paul persists for many Christians.

Although “Jesus Only” sounds pious, the fact is Jesus does not fully explain what he is going to do on the cross nor does he present anything like a “systematic theology” of who he is as related to the Father. All Christians after Jesus struggle to understand who Jesus was and how he fits into the overall plan of God.

It is my view that Paul was a faithful interpreter of Jesus who was inspired by God to write the book of Romans. Paul does claim to be called by God to a particular ministry, bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentile world. Why would a pagan Roman care about a crucified Jewish teacher who claimed to be a messiah, whatever that is?

Paul’s theology and ethics do not differ from Jesus as much as is often assumed. Romans 12 seems to know and use the same tradition Matthew used in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). Paul did not reject the ethics of Jesus and substitute his own! Paul can therefore be considered a faithful interpreter of what Jesus did on the cross. He understood the story of the Hebrew Bible as believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promise to deal with the problem of sin.

To what extent do “red letter Christians” have a point? Has Paul’s theology about Jesus “gone too far”? Or is it later theology which has twisted the more simple religion of Jesus?

“One can almost write the history of Christian Theology by surveying the ways in which Romans has been interpreted.” Joseph Fitzmyer, Romans, xiii.

Because Romans is the longest of the New Testament epistles it has major influence on Christian theology. Fitzmyer is not exaggerating. In fact, most of Christian soteriology is based on the book of Romans. Is it possible to fully romansdescribe “salvation by grace through faith” using only the Jewish Christian letters? Even the Gospels themselves do not present a fully developed view of salvation. For many evangelical Christians, Romans is more or less equivalent to the Gospel! One of the basic ways to present the Gospel is the “Romans Road.”

The importance of the book can be demonstrated by examining popular systematic theologies. There far more references to Romans than any other New Testament book (and in some cases, more than the whole Old Testament!) Although the book only focuses on Paul, in N. T. Wright’s recent Paul and the Faithfulness of God, there are twenty-two columns of references to Romans, there are twenty-eight columns for all of the other Pauline letters.

The importance of the book can be seen in church history. Just two examples, there are others. Augustine was converted to Christianity when he opened up the Bible and randomly read Romans 13:13-14, “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Augustine said “it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled” (Confessions, translated by Henry Chadwick; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992, 153).

When Luther read Romans and was stunned by the grace of God. As he began to study Romans and to understand how the “righteousness of God” in Romans 1:17 applied to other areas of salvation, he began to question medieval Catholic doctrine, leading to the Protestant Reformation. The study of Romans in this case led to one of the greatest dividing pints in world history!

In Luther’s own words,

This epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament, and is truly the purest gospel. It is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but also that he should occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. We can never read it or ponder over it too much; for the more we deal with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes (Martin Luther, Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans)

Michael Bird used this same quote in the preface to his recent commentary on Romans, and it appears frequently in introductions to the book. I realize this sounds a little bit like hype, since I am introducing a series on Romans. Like anyone who rehearses this information at the beginning of a book on Romans, I have a vested interest in exciting people about our study. But a study of Paul’s letter to the Romans really is exciting and will reward those who diligently study the book.

As you have read Romans in the past, what are some of the most significant verses in the book to you? What has impacted your understanding of God his faithful actions providing salvation for sinners? Are there verses which have shaped the way you think about your life as a Christian?

Starting this weekend, I am starting a new series on the book of Romans. For the first time, I am teaching an undergraduate class on Romans. In the past, Romans was always part of a Pauline Lit survey, but I never was satisfied with only two weeks of lectures on Romans. It felt rushed, since I needed to cover all thirteen letters along with the background necessary for that sort of a survey class. This class is a chance for me to dig into the details of Romans. It is only natural for some of these things to develop into short blog posts for further discussion. I plan to finish in December, so this is not the longest series on Romans ever, but it should be long enough to cover the major issues found in the book.

romanscommentaryThere are a number of textbooks which could be used for a class on Romans, but I chose Encountering Romans by Douglas Moo. This is a very student friendly textbook which covers most of the issues without going into too much detail (and distracting from the main points of Paul’s letter). Douglas Moo is well-known for his NICNT Commentary on Romans, and I have used it extensively preparing for the class. I supplemented this with Colin Kruse’s Pillar commentary and Joseph Fitzmyer’s Anchor Bible commentary. I have also used Jewett, Dunn, Schreiner, and a few others. Longenecker’s New International Greek Text Commentary was published this summer, and I picked up Michael Bird’s Story of the Bible commentary from Zondervan in the spring.

My plan is do some background work over the next few posts before moving through the book and commenting on some exegetical and theological details of the text. Hopefully this will be a benefit to most readers. Please feel free to comment, ask questions or offer correction as we move through this important book of the New Testament.

I will also offer one or two Romans-related book giveaways to celebrate the Fall semester and this long series on Romans. I hope you get some benefit from this long, slow read through the book of Romans!

Cronin, Sonya Shetty. Raymond Brown, ‘The Jews’ and the Gospel of John: From Apologia to Apology. LNTS 504; London: T&T Clark, 2015. 232pp. Hb; $112.00; Pb. $39.95 (2013); PDF eBook $27.95.   Link to Bloomsbury  

Sonya Cronin’s monograph tracks a development in the thinking of one of the greatest Johannine scholars of the twentieth century, Raymond Brown. Her interest is focused on the development of Brown’s thought on John’s characterization of the Jews as responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. Cronin’s thesis is that Brown changed his views over his career. Perhaps it is more accurate that Brown’s views on the issue were enlightened over his long cronon-raymond-browncareer. Brown himself was never anti-Semitic, but his sensitivity to the way John’s Gospel had been misused to justify anti-Semitic belief and actions developed considerably over time. In his earliest writings he offers an apologetic to deflect a charge of anti-Semitism directed at the fourth Gospel to an apology for how the church has used the Gospel of John to blame the Jews for the death of Jesus and the resulting persecution of Jews.

The Gospel of John has often been described as anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic based on the way the author of the Gospel uses the word Ἰουδαῖος, the Jews. For example, John 8:44 states the “Jews are of your father the devil” and John 19 lays the blame for the crucifixion on the Jews rather than Pilate and the Romans. Cronin does not devote any space to showing how an anti-Jewish reading of John developed in the early Church nor how blaming the Jews for the crucifixion became an invitation to abuse the Jews at various times in Church history. There are other books which trace the history and it is a well-known problem in Johannine Studies.

Cronin divides Brown’s work on John into four stages: from 1960-1970, including a short book on John and the Epistles and the Anchor Bible commentary on the Gospel of John; from 1971-1988, including the Community of the Beloved and The Gospel and the Epistles; from 1988-1998, including The Death of the Messiah and a short Retreat with John the Evangelist; and Brown’s posthumous works, including An Introduction to the Gospel of John (with Maloney). In each chapter she examines references to the Jews in works in each stage and describes Brown’s shift in thinking. Initially this was as simple as using quite marks for “the Jews” in order to indicate the Gospel writer does not have all Jews in mind when he declares the Jews “sons of the devil.”

In each chapter she provides some biographical information which may have influence Brown’s development on this issue. For example, when he moved to Union Theological Seminary in 1970, he came into contact with Louis Martyn. That relationship had an impact on Brown’s development of a Johannine Community hypothesis. During his time at Union Brown also had regular fellowship with Rabbi Dr. Burton Visotzky from Jewish Theological Seminary. According to Cronin, after this time Brown “did not publish anything on the Jews without allowing a Jewish scholar to screen it first” (76). An additional factor in each period of Brown’s work on John is developments in the Catholic Church and his participation in statements from the Church on the Jews. The 1965 document Nostra Aetate (In Our Time, Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council).

Of particular interest is Cronin’s account in Brown’s Death of the Messiah. Since this particular monograph was devoted to the death of Jesus, Brown includes a section on the responsibility and/or guilt for Jesus’ death. Both Rome and the Hews are to blame, but since Rome no longer exists, anti-Roman sentiment is meaningless. Brown did not “vindicate nor vilify” the passion narratives for blaming the Jews for the crucifixion (99). It is not the place of the exegete to judge historical attitudes and accurate historical research requires the recognition of hostility in the Gospels. But he also is quick to point out that Christians are also guilty of acting in the same manner as those who killed Jesus (104). Modern anti-Judaism is, therefore, morally wrong and historically misplaced (107).

For John Dominic Crossan, this was a failure to deal with the anti-Judaism of the Fourth Gospel. Crossan’s Who Killed Jesus? was written as a kind of response to Brown and argued Brown did not go far enough in condemning the what he considered anti-Semitism in the passion narratives. Crossan thought a fair historical assessment of the passion narratives necessarily led to anti-Judaism, which can is closely linked to the kind of anti-Semitism which led to the Holocaust (113). Brown is content to acknowledge anti-Judaism in the passion narratives as a historical reality and observe that “not everything in Scripture is to be emulated” (146). Crossan considers the passion narratives to be “defensive fiction” which perpetuate hatred and blames Brown for giving aid and comfort to that fiction.

Cronin concludes her argument with a short survey of commentaries and articles which interact with anti-Judaism in John. Her interest is to compare this data to Brown’s developing sensitivity to the issue. For some scholars, the “Jews” are the Jewish authorities who attack Jesus (not all Jews), for others the “Jews” are a stereotype who function as the theological representatives of unbelief in John’s Gospel. Many scholars have been influence by Brown to argue the Jews serve as a kind of “intra-Jewish debate” with a Jewish Christian community. Brown developed this view in his Johannine Community view, and along with Louis Martyn, suggested some Jews were ejected from the Synagogue because of their faith in Jesus.

In the end, Cronin shows how Brown was able to move from only the most cursory interest in anti-Judaism in the Gospel of John to a defense of John’s gospel against the charge of anti-Judaism, and ultimately to an apology for the way John’s gospel has been used against the Jewish people in both scholarship and society. Brown did this, Cronin argues, first as a Catholic and secondly as a biblical scholar. Brown was, she suggests, a leader in the Church against anti-Judaism and a “significant voice in leadership” forming official Catholic documents and statements on the Jewish people.

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

Lamb, David A. Text, Context, and the Johannine Community. LNTS 477; London: T&T Clark, 2014. 232pp. Hb; $110.00; Pb. $39.95 (2013), PDF eBook $27.95.   Link to Bloomsbury  

In this revision of his 2012 doctoral thesis at the University of Manchester, David Lamb evaluates Raymond Brown’s Johannine Community using recent insights from sociolinguistics, primarily genre and register. Few scholars have had an impact on a field within biblical studies like Raymond Brown, and although many of the details of his Johannine Community model have been challenged and abandoned, it is impossible to study the Gospel of John without taking into consideration his ideas.

lamb-johannine-communityThe first two chapters of Lamb’s book are a necessary overview of the “rise and fall” of the Johannine Community in scholarship. He begins his literature with Martyn, Culpepper and Cullman as precursors to Brown as well several scholars who developed the theory after Brown’s initial work. Wayne Meeks developed thesis that the Community was sectarian in nature, so that the Gospel is a “book for insiders” rather than a universal Gospel for all Christians. This is the direction of the work of Bruce Malina and Jerome Neyrey. Lamb gives significant attention to Edward Klink’s Sheep of the Fold (Cambridge 2007), calling it “the most sustained attack on the Johannine Community to date” (21). In this dissertation written under the supervision of Richard Bauckham, Klink argues there was no local audience for the Gospel of John. In fact, it is largely impossible to move from text to social location with any degree of certainty.

Most recent introductions to John’s Gospel will trace a similar history and then state the Johannine Community theory is less popular than it once was. Lamb surveys a series of scholars who have contributed to this erosion. This includes evangelicals like Morris, Carson, and Köstenberger who are more interested in traditional authorship of the Gospel of John as well as Richard Bauckham’s suggestion John is a gospel “for all Christians” rather than a narrow sectarian document.

The second chapter of this monograph presents Brown’s Johannine Community. It is not necessary to summarize the well-known development of Brown’s work here, but it is significant that Brown himself understood his reconstruction of a Johannine Community was only a “probability” (29), but one based on what he considered a scientific, critical foundation. Lamb is right to describe Brown as a faithful Catholic scholar who did his work in the spirit of modernism. Brown used the historical-critical method, including source and redaction criticism and was deeply suspicious of newer hermeneutical methods (43). Lamb suggests his use of these methods was tempered by his allegiance to the Catholic Church (54). His method did, however, employ a “two level” reading of the Gospel of John, so that the blind man in John 9 is “acting out the history of the Johannine Community” (42).

In order to critique Brown’s Johannine Community theory, Lamb employs a sociolinguistic method to better understand the relationship between text and context. The third chapter of this monograph therefore introduces the reader to sociolinguistics and defines key terms (genre, register, style and dialect). Genre refers to relatively stable forms of discourse. By “register” Lamb means the way language varies according to its social situation. For example, a scientific text has a different register than a religious text. By style Lamb refers to an author’s idiolect, the particular choice of words or grammatical features. By dialect Lamb choices of vocabulary according to the culture of the writer. It is the variety of language which may say something about the “context of culture” behind a text. After surveying several examples Lamb concludes that register analysis may help to define the “context of situation” of the Gospel of John as the well as the relationship between the implied readers of the text and the actual readers. That relationship will be “realized in terms of its tenor” (101).

Although Raymond Brown was reluctant to describe the community as secretary in, this is not been the case for other New Testament scholars. In his fourth chapter Lamb explores the idea of antilanguage, by which he means the way that he community defines or redefines terminology along sectarian lines. Wayne Meeks thought the Johannine community was sectarian, other scholars described as a “countercultural group.” If this is the case, then we ought to expect relexicalization of common vocabulary in order to create insiders and outsiders. For example, prisoners create new words or redefine old words in order to create an insider language that sets them apart from prison staff. Another example might be teenagers who regularly redefine words or use them in ways radically different than their parents’ generation. If this kind of antilanguage appears in the Gospel of John, then it is evidence the community was sectarian. But after examining some examples in the Gospel, Lamb finds this thesis to be unacceptable Although there are a number of words in John’s Gospel which contrast to spheres of existence (spirit above in contrast to flesh below), none of these are redefine nor are there examples of new vocabulary unique to the community. Lamb offers several suggestions to explain this. First, there is simply not enough data to a sociolinguistic method to achieve results in the Gospel of John. Second, even if there was antilanguage in the Gospel, it does not necessarily imply the readers were members of an “antisociety.” Even a dominant group uses “coded language” (141).

For Lamb, previous attempts to use sociolinguistics to the Gospel of John have been rigorous enough because these attempts are dominated by the assumption of a Johannine Community which is sectarian (145).  He therefore devotes his fifth chapter to the register of John’s Gospel. Lamb surveys the narrative asides in the Gospel since these are from the author, paying close attention to the possibility of new words created by the writer, speech functions and modulations of clauses, use of personal pronouns and vocative adjuncts. By assessing the use of these features, Lamb draws conclusions with respect to power, contact and affective involvement. Who holds the “power” in the relationship, the author or the reader? What is the level of contact between the two? The higher the affective involvement, the more likely the “context of situation” is a close-knit community.

In each of these three categories, neither the Gospel nor the Epistles imply a close-knit community. The author hold all the power and there is no evidence of contact in the narrative asides in the Gospel. There is some contact in 2 and 3 John, but this contact is slight in comparison to the rest of the Johannine literature. It is possible Ἀγαπητοί in 1 John implies some affective involvement, but Lamb considers this language was used for rhetorical value rather than implying a community. Lamb does not consider Τεκνία μου in 1 John, presumably this would also be considered a rhetorical device.

Does Lamb’s register analysis signal the death of the Johannine Community? As Lamb states in his concluding chapter, he has attempted to chart a course between historical criticism and literary methods, Brown himself was only interested in the former and was suspicious of the latter. He concludes Bauckham and Klink are correct, the audience of John’s Gospel is “broad and hard to define” and certainly not an introverted, sectarian community (203). For scholars who want to continue to use the Johannine Community hypothesis, they need to bear in mind the language of the Gospel is sociolect rather than idiolect and is targeted at a loose network of communities which may have formed around the Gospel.

Conclusion. David Lamb has employed what is for many a new method for understanding the “context of situation” behind the Gospel of John. Such literary methods are often arcane and create terminology which unnecessarily obfuscates. To his credit, Lamb develops his register analysis in a way which brings clarity to the ongoing discussion of the Johannine Community.

 

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

bright-watersAfter the dark days, Baruch saw a last “bright waters” which indicate there will be “eternal peace on the throne of the kingdom” (Chapters 73-76). This is the messianic age when health will descend like dew and joy will encompass the earth. Wild animals will serve men and “asps and dragons” will subject themselves to a child. Those who work the fields will never tire because the produce will shoot out speedily.

Baruch responds to the vision and interpretation in prayer and worship (chapter 75) and he is instructed to wait forty days and he will depart from the earth (chapter 76). He assembles the people and explains to the (briefly) his vision and encourages them to hold to the law, since the reason Zion fell is the people forgot the law (chapter 77). The people understand this and request Baruch write a letter to the “brothers in Babylon” that they too may know this revelation from God. There is a little hint here of a difference between Jews in Jerusalem and Jews in the Diaspora. The Jerusalem Jews are concerned their brothers living far away keep the law and see their responsibility in ensuring the Jews in Babylon keep the Law correctly. Is this a hint at the problems between Palestine and Diaspora Jews in the pre-70 era discussed earlier?

Baruch writes a letter to the nine and a half tribes which are living in Babylon (chapters 78-87) explaining to them the Lord justly chastised the nation because they were unrighteous.  He reports what happened when Nebuchadnezzar invaded the city (79) and his vision of the angels around the city who allowed Nebuchadnezzar to take Zion itself (80). He gives them some word of consolation as well, that the Mighty One is a God of Grace and has shown him the “mysteries of the times and the coming periods” (81).

He describes the coming time of justice for God’s people when everything will be put right and the nation will be avenged (82-83). God is fair in all of his judgments, for “if he judges us not according to the multitude of his grace, woe to all us who are born” (84:11).  The youth of the world has passed away and the coming of the “times” is nearly here: the pitcher is full, the ship is near the harbor, etc. (85). When those days come he will purge the world of sin and destroy those who are polluted by sin (85:15).

watersBaruch asks a further question about those who face woe and suffering in that time (chapter 52). He falls asleep and has a vision of a cloud coming up from a great sea (chapter 53). The cloud flashes lightning and great water begins to pour out of it. The water alternates between black and bright, finally pouring out a great amount of black water. The lightning grows in intensity and finally occupies the whole world. When he awakes, he asks the Mighty One for an explanation of this dream (chapter 54).

Baruch knows the dream concerns those who are in sin and about to be judged. Verses 19-20 are curious because they teach that Adam is responsible for his own sin and each of us, when we sin, become our own Adam. This is a semi-Pelagian if not Pelagian view of the imputation of sin and quite different than the view of Paul in Romans 5 and 1 Cor. 15:24, in Adam we all sin.

The dream is interpreted by the Lord as encompassing all of the history of Israel in the alternating waters (Chapters 55-74). The great cloud was the length of the days of his world.

  • The first black waters – Adam and the first sin (56:5-16).
  • The second bright waters – Abraham and his generation, but also the hope of the “world which will be renewed” (57).
  • The third black waters – the sins the nation committed in Egypt (58).
  • The fourth bright waters – the coming of Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Joshua, and Caleb (59). Moses is said to have been shown all sorts of the “mysteries” of God such as the weight of the winds, the number of the raindrops, the height of the air and the greatness of Paradise along with the worlds to come. This makes Moses into a prototype of the apocalyptic prophet.
  • The fifth black waters – the works of the Amorites, which polluted even Israel in those days (60).
  • The sixth bright waters – David and Solomon and the building of Zion (61).
  • The seventh black waters – The perversion of ideas in the rule of Jereboam (62).
  • The eighth bright waters – The righteousness and integrity of Hezekiah (63).
  • The ninth black waters – The sins of Manasseh (64-65).
  • The tenth bright waters – The purity of the generation of Josiah (66). On account of Josiah “precious glories have been created and prepared.”
  • The eleventh black waters – The disaster of the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (67).
  • The twelfth bright waters – The world which is to come when Zion is rebuilt again and the nations will honor Zion, after the fall of many nations (68).

After the twelve waters, Baruch saw some “last black waters” which were blacker than all the others he had seen. These waters are a description of the days which are coming when the “world has ripened and the harvest of seed of the evil ones and the good ones has come . . .” (Chapters 69-72). It is a time when the poor will outnumber the rich, when the wise are silent that the fools speak, the impious will be exalted over the brave. There will be war; those who save themselves from war will die in an earthquake; those who save themselves from the earthquake will die in the fire; those who save themselves from the fire will die in the famine (70:8-9).

Following the common structure of the book, Baruch waits seven days then prays again to the Lord (48:1-24). He acknowledges that God establishes times and commands things that will take place. God is eternal, but humans live short lives; therefore Baruch asks for protection for the people and preservation for the nation (the elect). They will keep the Law of God and they will not mingle with the nations as long as the Law supports the (23-24). The Lord responds to this prayer and answers some of these concerns (44:25-50). Nothing will be destroyed, the Lord says, unless it has acted wickedly.

enochBaruch himself is to be “taken up” and preserved out of the time which is coming (44:30-31). The last days are described as peaceful, people will not realize judgment is coming. This is similar to Jesus in the Olivet Discourse describing “those days” as the days of Noah, simply a peaceful normal time, the judgment comes suddenly (Matt 24:37, Luke 17:26). Another similar aspect to the teaching of Jesus here is that while the judgment as unexpected, it was not without warnings (Matt 24:6, 11, 24, for example). The people who are judged are simply unaware spiritually and cannot discern the “signs of the times.”

Baruch asks the Lord about the splendor of the coming days (chapter 49). The Lord’s response (chapters 50-51) is a description of the messianic age. The earth will give back the dead (50:2-4) who will live again and recognize each other (50:4). What is more, the righteous dead will be “greater than the angels.”

2 Baruch 51:12-14 And the excellence of the righteous will then be greater than that of the angels. For the first will receive the last, those whom they expected; and the last, those of whom they had heard that they had gone away. For they have been saved from this world of affliction and have put down the burden of anguishes.

Those who despised the Law will be judged and go away to be tormented. Miracles will appear for the saved and the “extent of paradise will spread out before them.” This eschatological reversal is typical of Jesus’ parables; wheat is gathered up and stored in the barn but the weeds are gathered and thrown on the fire.

Follow Reading Acts on WordPress.com

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 3,266 other followers

My book Jesus the Bridegroom is now available from Amazon in paperback or Kindle

Christian Theology

%d bloggers like this: