The Death of the Two Witnesses – Revelation 11:7-14

After 1260 days of ministry, the “beast that comes from the bottomless pit” will attack and kill the two witnesses. This is the first time Revelation refers to the beast, and it is a bit surprising since the beast is not fully explained until chapter 13. Who is this beast ascending from the bottomless pit?

The Apocalypse of Angers 1373-87

John develops an important image from Daniel describing a progression of human kingdoms as beasts rising from the chaos of the sea. In Daniel 7:3 described four beasts rising from the sea and Revelation 13:1 the beast rises from the sea. Both the fourth beast in Daniel 7:21 and the first beast in Revelation 13 “make war on the saints.”  Revelation 13 describes two beasts, one form the sea and one from the earth.

Daniel 7:3 four great beasts rise from the sea, καὶ τέσσαρα θηρία μεγάλα ἀνέβαινον ἐκ τῆς θαλάσσης.

Revelation 11:7 the beast rises from the bottomless pit, τὸ θηρίον τὸ ἀναβαῖνον ἐκ τῆς ἀβύσσου.

Revelation 13:1 John sees a beast (no definite article) rising from the sea, ἐκ τῆς θαλάσσης θηρίον ἀναβαῖνον.

Daniel 7:21 The fourth beast “made war against the saints and overpowered them,” ἐποίει πόλεμον μετὰ τῶν ἁγίων καὶ ἴσχυσεν πρὸς αὐτούς

Revelation 11:7 the beast “will make war against them (the two witnesses) and he will conquer them,” ποιήσει μετʼ αὐτῶν πόλεμον καὶ νικήσει αὐτοὺς

Revelation 13:7 Authority was given to the beast “to make war against the saints and conquer them,” ποιῆσαι πόλεμον μετὰ τῶν ἁγίων καὶ νικῆσαι αὐτούς

Daniel 7 describes an ultimate evil empire which persecutes God’s people and is replaced by the kingdom of God ruled by the Son of Man. For Daniel, this coming kingdom was a future event, one that was still future from the perspective of John. The empire is different (it was the Seleucids, now it is Rome). But the hope for the glorious coming of the Son of Man to rescue God’s people from their suffering and establish a kingdom of peace and justice is the same. The attack on the two witnesses parallels the beginning of the beast’s war against the saints, as will be described in chapter 13. Although the persecution is great, there is a remnant, the church is “completely annihilated but driven underground” (Beale, 590).

What is remarkable is the beast is successful. It kills the two witnesses and conquers the saints. John is clear God’s people will suffer greatly under this powerful empire. This should not be unexpected, many suffered and died at the hand of the Assyria, Babylonian, Seleucid and Roman empires. An ultimate evil empire will therefore cause ultimate suffering and death of God’s people.

Two Witnesses Bamberg ApocalypseThe bodies are not buried. They are left in the streets for three and a half days. Typically Jews buried the dead as quickly as possible since dead bodies are unclean.

The great city in verse 8 must be Jerusalem since it is where Jesus was crucified. However, adding that Jerusalem is “figuratively called Egypt and Sodom” is an odd description. In fact, “figuratively” (NIV) or symbolically (ESV) might be better understood as “prophetically” (NRSV) since the adverb is πνευματικῶς, “being consistent with transcendent influence… more is involved here than mere allegory or figurative usage” (BDAG).

This is a reference to God’s extreme judgment on Sodom and Egypt (rather than their wickedness). Sodom is the ultimate wicked city (Jer 23:14, Ezek 16:46), but also the quintessential judgment of God. Isaiah 1:9 compares a devastated Jerusalem to Sodom; Amos 4:11 compares God’s judgment on some cities as “like Sodom.” It is true Egypt is associated with idolatry and slavery (Isa 19:1; Ezek 29:7), God’s judgment on Egypt in the plagues is a prototype for the judgments in Revelation 8-9. Aune points out prophets often go to Jerusalem to be rejected and killed (2:621).

When the beast kills the two witnesses, the people of the world will gloat over their deaths. In any ancient or modern culture, leaving a body unburied is a deep insult which defiles the place where the body lays. It is possible this is an allusion to Psalm 79:1-3, a lament over the fall of Jerusalem. In that psalm, Jerusalem is in ruins, the temple is defiled by bodies left unburied to be eaten by birds and animals, and blood is poured out over the city. To further dishonor the two witnesses, people of the whole world rejoice and exchange gifts. When Nineveh fell, people clapped their hands and rejoiced (Nahum 3:19). As the news the two witnesses are dead spreads, spontaneous celebrations break out all over the world.

After three and a half days the witnesses will be resurrected and called up to heaven by a great voice (cf., Rev 4:1). Just as the bodies had laid in public view for a time, the resurrection of the two witnesses is in the full view of all the world. Coming to one’s feet is associated with resurrection (2 Kings 13:21, Ezek 37:10). The reaction this resurrection is that a great fear falls upon all who see it. Great fear falls on those who witness God’s judgment on Egypt (Exod 15:16)

For those who are being persecuted by the beast, this resurrection and ascension is a great comfort, providing a hope of resurrection even if they must suffer greatly and die for their testimony.

Who are the Two Witnesses? Revelation 11:3-6

After measuring out the temple, God grants authority to two witnesses who will minister during the 42 months (or 1260 days) when the temple is trample by the nations. “Two witnesses” is based on the Jewish law required two witnesses to establish a fact (Num. 35:30, Deut. 17:6). Jesus sent out his disciples two-by-two as witnesses to the villages of Galilee (Mark 6:6-12).

Two Witnesses in Douce Apocalypse, Bodleian ms180

The physical description of the two witnesses is drawn from various Old testament passages. They are clothed in sackcloth. Sackcloth is a coarse cloth usually made of goats’ hair and black in color and was worn as a sign of mourning (Gen 37:34; 2 Sam 3:31).

They are also described as “the two olive trees and the two lampstands.” The background for this description is Zechariah 4. Lampstand here should be understood as a menorah, a synagogue lamp that was used in the temple as well.  It had a single stick in the center with three sets of arcs out from the base, for a total of seven candles. Recall that the description of Christ in chapter one talked about seven lampstands, perhaps there was one menorah with seven lights. The image in Zechariah are identified with the “two who are anointed to serve the Lord.” In the context of Zechariah, these are most likely to be identified with Zerubbabel (the governor) and Joshua (the high priest) of the post-exilic community. One major difference is that while there are two olive trees, there is only one lampstand.

“Fire” destroys their enemies. This is a difficult point to understand since there is no Old Testament reference to fire coming out of anyone to destroy enemies (although Elijah and Elisha both call fire from heaven.) Aune 2:613 lists several extra-biblical references 2 and 3 Enoch, for example.). One possibility is to see this fire as representing the word of God, as in Jeremiah 5:14,  “Because the people have spoken these words, I will make my words in your mouth a fire and these people the wood it consumes.”  In 2 Samuel 22:8-9 God “breathes fire,” a metaphor of judgement, “Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it.”

These two witnesses have the power to withhold rain, cause water to turn to blood, and to strike the earth with plagues during the 3 and a half years of their ministry. The power to cause drought is punitive (Aune 2:615), as with Elijah in 1 Kings 17:1, etc. Turning the water to blood is an allusion to Moses in Exodus 7:14-19), this would also cause famine. The Egyptians were struck with “every kind of plague” (1 Sam 4:8); the implication is that the same types of plagues that were present in Exodus will be available to these two witnesses.

Two Witnesses Ottheinrich folio294rWith this in mind, who are the two witnesses? Daniel K. K. Wong surveyed a bewildering number of suggestions and sorted them into two categories symbolic, corporate and literal interpretations (“The Two Witnesses in Revelation 11” BSac 154 (1997): 344-354). As examples of symbolic interpretations, some scholars have taken these two witnesses as symbols of the law and prophets or the Old and New Testaments. Under the heading of corporate interpretations, scholars often see these two witnesses as the church as witness in the word in the present age. Sometimes the witnesses are seen as believers who suffer martyrdom (Caird, for example).

Literal interpretations of the two witnesses are two prophets active during the final conflagration, the great tribulation. Based in Malachi 4:5-6, there was a Jewish expectation that Elijah would return before the Messiah. In John 1 John the Baptist is asked if he is Elijah. Jesus called John the Baptist “the Elijah that is to come” (Matt 11:14l; 17:10-12). Peter says some think Jesus is Elijah (Matt 16:14; cf. Mark 6:15 the crowds thought that John was Elijah).

Not surprisingly, there are many possible combinations for the identity of the two witnesses. The most common suggestion is Moses and Elijah since the plagues described in Revelation 11 allude to these two Old Testament characters. In addition, they represent the Law and Prophets, as the symbolic interpretations correctly observe. Elijah and Moses met with Jesus at the Transfiguration (Matt 17). Although this is associated with dispensationalist writers (Thomas, Revelation 2:88-89), Greg Beale also sees an allusion to Moses and Elijah, although in his view the text does not anticipate a literal return of Moses and Elijah.

A second common suggestion for the two witnesses is Elijah and Enoch. A second common suggestion for the two witnesses is Elijah and Enoch. this view is at least as old as Augustine. He thought Elijah and Enoch will be killed together at “the end of the world by the Antichrist” (Ep. 193.3, 5; De gen ad litt. 9.5; cited by Aune, 2:617).Aune also draws attention to the Acts of Pilate 25 as representing the view the two witnesses are Enoch and Elijah.

I am Enoch, who pleased God and was removed here by him. And this is Elijah the Tishbite. We shall live until the end of the world. But then we shall be sent by God to withstand Antichrist and to be killed by him. And after three days we shall rise again and be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord.

Since these two characters from the Old Testament ascend to heaven. In Genesis 5 Enoch walked with God and “was no more” and in 2 Kings 2 Elijah is taken to heaven in a fiery chariot in 2 Kings 2. This view also resonates with the belief Elijah would return before the messiah. The Animal Apocalypse implies Enoch would return, although this is far from clear in 1 Enoch 90:31. In 4 Ezra 6:26 “And they shall see the men who were taken up, who from their birth have not tasted death; and the heart of the earth’s inhabitants shall be changed and converted to a different spirit.”

Which view a better interpretation of the two witnesses? Are the two witnesses symbols (either generic or for a corporate group) or two literal people? Wong makes several points that imply that these are literal people. First, the word-group for witness is normally used for persons rather than as a symbol for something. This does not mean that John could not use the term as a symbol here, he consistently used it for people in the rest of Revelation. For example, the word is applied to Jesus and Antipas, in 2:13.

Second, witnesses prophesy, an activity implies a person. The only other place in Revelation where this particular verb is used is in 10:13, where John is told that he must prophecy to many nations. This does not necessarily the two witnesses to be individuals since the corporate interpretations also see a prophetic witness as the key function of the group.

Third, the witnesses are described as speaking (v. 3, 6), they can kill their enemies (v. 5), they are heard, handled and hated (v. 3, 7, 10), have mouths, ears, and feet (5, 11-12), wear sackcloth and have dead bodies (v. 8, 9). However, the beast from the sea in Revelation 13 is described in detail yet no one argues those details imply the beast is literally a multi-headed dragon.

Since the trumpets have been using allusions to the Exodus throughout Revelation 8-9, it seems an allusion to Moses is certain. Given the association of Elijah with the eschatological age, it seems the second witness alludes to him. Although it is always possible John is predicting the literal return of these two characters, it is more likely he is following the same method as the rest of the trumpets. The pattern of the Exodus will be repeated in the future, God will send prophets like Moses and Elijah to call his people out of nations once again.

Book Review: Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry, eds. Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism

Hixson, Elijah and Peter J. Gurry, eds. Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2019. 372 pp. Pb. $40.   Link to IVP Academic

In his foreword to this volume of essays on textual criticism, Daniel Wallace comments on the chasm between scholars and apologists. Apologists, Wallace suggests, have a tendency to regurgitate other apologetic works. As a result, skewed and wrong data on manuscripts of the New Testament gets passed along to pastors and teachers who present this data as fact. Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism attempts to correct these well-intentioned traditions among both popular apologists as well as other New Testament scholars. The essays in this volume are like much like D. A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies (Second Edition, Baker Academic, 1996). Most readers will recognize some of their own errors after reading Carson’s book; the same is true with Myths and Mistakes. After reading this book there are several places in my own lecture notes which need to be revised and corrected in the light of better, more accurate information.

Hixson and Gurry, Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism

The authors of the essays want to avoid exaggerated claims for New Testament manuscripts as well as correct factual errors. In the introduction to the collection, As Peter J. Gurry and Elijah Hixson explain in their introduction, suggest “if we believe that God inspired the particular words of Holy Scripture, then it is incumbent on us to do our best to identify those words so that we can preach, teach, treasure, and obey them” (p. 25).  Hixson and Gurry offer examples of outdated information and abused statistics which are found in both academic and popular books on biblical manuscripts.

Timothy N. Mitchell discusses myths about the original autographs (ch. 2). It is unlikely any New Testament autographs still existed by the time of the earliest extant copies. Once a book circulated, the writing could not be significantly changed without those changes becoming known.

Jacob W. Peterson deals with how many New Testament manuscripts are extant (ch. 3). One problem with counting manuscripts is the total number of changes: new manuscripts are discovered and there are examples of double counting. Most manuscripts only contain portions of the New Testament, so the total number of early manuscripts of Mark (for example) is far less than the total number. Because of this, using round numbers for total manuscripts is important. Peterson argues more New Testament manuscripts as compared to other ancient literature is not necessarily better. Having 179 manuscripts from the tenth century is not necessarily as valuable as sixty-five manuscripts from the third century.

James B. Prothro discusses myths about Classical Literature (ch. 4). Apologists love to compare the New Testament manuscript evidence to other ancient literature. These statistical comparisons are often based on old data and only demonstrate the New Testament has better textual basis, but not a perfect one.

Elijah Hixson treats dating myths, specifically how scholars date New Testament manuscripts (ch. 5). There is a perception that the earliest manuscripts are more reliable. This motivates some apologists to date some papyri fragments as early as possible, sometimes making dramatic announcements before scholars have done their work. After surveying dating methods, Hixson uses the example of P52, a fragment of the Gospel of John often dated to about A.D. 125 (or earlier). Since the initial publication of the fragment, scholars have revisited the evidence and suggested dates as late as A.D. 200-225. Rather than give a specific date like A.D. 125, Hixson suggests a range of A.D. 100-200 as a “responsible date range” (p. 109).

Gregory R. Lanier deals with the myth that early manuscripts are always better manuscripts (ch. 6). This chapter deals with the Byzantine tradition, the later manuscripts which form the majority of ancient manuscripts available to scholarship. Early textual critics adopted a “later-is-worse” method and more or less considered the Byzantine tradition as secondary evidence for dating manuscripts. Lanier suggests later manuscripts may improve over time as later scribes correct earlier ones.  He uses the examples of the Pericope of the Adulterous Woman and the various endings for the Gospel of Mark as examples. In both cases, later scribes added comments expressing doubt for the authenticity of these additions.

Zachary J. Cole examines what we know about scribes in the Greco-Roman world to examine myths about the copyists of the earliest manuscripts (ch. 7). Overall, the earliest copyists were neither careless amateurs nor professionals. They demonstrate the same level of accuracy expected for any ancient text.

Peter Malik surveys the various ways scribes corrected mistakes (ch. 8). Beginning with P66, he offers several examples scribal corrections. Attention to these corrections can show how readers used the manuscript shedding light on intentional changes.

S. Matthew Solomon describes his collation of more that 570 manuscripts of Philemon copied before A.D. 700 in order to demonstrate the methods used by scholars (ch. 9). He concludes that even if we only had a copy of Philemon from more than nine hundred years after Paul wrote the letter, very little would change (p. 189). Although there are more variants than expected, most of the variants are insignificant.

Peter J. Gurry explains why most variants are insignificant and why other variants cannot be ignored (ch. 10). He begins with examples of large the number of variants in popular books on textual criticism, concluding that “around half a million” is a fair estimate, and most are “awfully boring for most Bible readers” (p. 209). Nearly half the number are meaningless and only a tiny fraction merits a footnote in major English translations. Nevertheless, there are a few dozen that are theologically important and need to be addressed by scholars using established textual critical practices.

What about these theologically significant variants? Critics like Bart Ehrman often claim scribes corrupted texts by changing the text to conform to orthodox theology. Robert D. Marcello deals with this so-called orthodox corruption (ch. 11). He observes Ehrman consistently considers the least orthodox reading to be the original, and the most orthodox to a corruption. Although it may be the case an orthodox change is in fact a corruption, presupposing the orthodox to be a corruption is methodologically suspicious. After examining a few examples of orthodox corruptions, Marcello concludes scribes did sometimes make theologically motivate changes, but some of these variants can be explained by other factors (p. 227).

Andrew Blaski addresses the issue from the perspective of patristics. What did the Church Fathers thought about textual variations (ch. 12). He begins with an oft-repeated claim that compiling the 32,289 quotations found in the church fathers, we could reconstruct the New Testament with the exception of eleven verses. Blaski traces the origin of this folk-tale and concludes it is a myth and should be dropped as an apologetic argument. The church fathers refer to the New Testament in a variety of way and rarely cite it verbatim. As anyone who examines the apparatus in the UBS5 knows, a given church father may be evidence for two or three different variants.

John D. Meade observes that while the codex was preferred by early Christians for canonical books, just because a book was included in a codex does not mean it was canonical (ch. 13). He surveys canonical lists and early Christian descriptions of their literature. This chapter includes several valuable charts collating the date and contents of codices.

The final two chapters of the volume concern translations. First, Jeremiah Coogan discusses the number of early New Testament translations and their value for textual criticism (ch. 14). He doubts there are ten thousand Latin manuscripts as is often claimed, the number may be fewer than one thousand. The chapter also surveys Syriac translations (with several photographs of manuscripts). Second, Edgar Battad Ebojo looks at how modern translations report variants of the New Testament (ch. 15). This is an important issue since footnotes are where most Bible readers will encounter textual variants. For example, when does a translation use brackets to indicate textual variants and when do they use footnotes? How does a modern Bible print John 7:53-8:11 or the long ending of Mark?

The book concludes with a thirty-one-page bibliography and several helpful indices, including an index of manuscripts.

Conclusion. This book is a positive step toward increased clarity on textual critical issues from experts in the field who are interested in helping Christians to avoid “believing what they want to be true” about the state of the New Testament manuscripts (p. 25). Although these essays may be unsettling for some readers, the goal of defending the Bible’s integrity calls for integrity on the part of apologists and critics alike.

Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry are contributes to the popular blog Evangelical Textual Criticism.

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.

Eating the Little Scroll – Revelation 10:8-11

The mighty angel held a little scroll in his hand (10:2). John is commanded to take this scroll and eat it (10:8-11).  (See also, Books in Apocalyptic.)

Is this little scroll related to the seven-sealed scroll in Revelation 5? In Revelation 5 the Lamb was given a seven-sealed scroll (βίβλος); this is a little scroll (βιβλαρίδιον and βλαρίδιον, the diminutive of βίβλος), although in 10:8 John uses βίβλος for this scroll (in some manuscripts βιβλαρίδιον appears). Beale thinks there is enough similarity to enable the reader to see the scroll as not a “totally different kind of book” from chapter 5, “but only one on a smaller scale… John wants to underscore the fact that this is a “little book” in comparison to the big book of ch. 5, and that it is modeled on that larger book” (Revelation, 545). In both cases the scroll is in the right hand and in both cases, someone takes the scroll from the hand.

domitian holding a scrollThere are, however, serious differences between the two scrolls. The scroll in chapter 5 is written on both sides, sealed with seven seals, and given to the Lamb of God who is the only person in all of creation with the authority to open the scroll.  The content of the scroll is Revelation 6:1-8:1, the seven seals. In Revelation 10, the scroll is already open, and the content of the scroll seems to be the word of God John will prophesy against the nations (v. 11). The identity of the mighty angel is important, since Beale argue the angel is Christ, he can see this scroll as the same: it was given to the Lamb, who opened the scroll, then passed it along to John to reveal to the nations.

Not every scroll in Revelation needs to be the same scroll. Scrolls appear often in Revelation (23 times). In Revelation 1:1 John is commanded to write into a scroll the message to the seven churches. This is clearly not the same scroll as the two-sided scroll in Revelation 5 or this little scroll in chapter 10. Nor are these scrolls the same as the “book of life” in Revelation 20:12.

Eating the scroll is a clear allusion to Ezekiel 2:9-3:3.

Ezekiel 2:9-3:3 Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, 10 which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe. 3:1 And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.” 2 So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.  3 Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.

Ezekiel’s first vision commissions him as a prophet. After seeing a revelation of the glory of God, he is shown a scroll written on both sides and he is told to eat it the scroll. Like Revelation 10, the scroll is “as sweet as honey.” Despite the words of lament and mourning, Ezekiel’s scroll does not turn his stomach bitter. He does have a bitter attitude toward his calling, “I went in bitterness (מַר) in the heat of my spirit” (3:14, the bitterness is omitted in the LXX).  Although the word was sweet as honey to Ezekiel, the message was difficult. This is enough to convince Beale Ezekiel also experiences “sweet as honey” followed by bitterness.

What is the content of this little scroll? There are various attempts in the commentaries to make the content of this scroll the ensuing chapters of Revelation, but this overlooks the function of eating a scroll in Ezekiel. In Ezekiel, the scroll represented God commissioning the prophet to speak his words to God’s people. In Revelation 10:11, after he eats the scroll John is commissioned: “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings” (ESV).

It is possible to translate the angel’s words as “against the nations,” the use of ἐπί and dative case may reflect the “negative apocalyptic attitude toward the ungodly nations of the world” (Aune 2:773; (BDAG §12). The more neutral “about” (NRSV, ESV, NIV) is possible (BDAG §8). For Aune, the negative sense “against” is “confirmed by the negative character of the Christian witness” in passages like Matthew 10:18, Luke 12:11 and 21:12 in which the disciples are warned they will be witnesses against rulers (ἐπί + dative; Aune 2:574). Beale agrees, “the accent is on judgment of the unrepentant” (554).

It is perhaps significant the next chapter describes the activity of two witnesses who indeed prophesy against the nations and are killed on account of their testimony.

Book Review: Nijay K. Gupta, A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Studies: Understanding Key Debates

Gupta, Nijay K. A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Studies: Understanding Key Debates. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2020. 196 pp. Pb. $24.99.   Link to Baker Academic

In the introduction to this beginner’s guide to the key issues for the study of the New Testament, Nijay Gupta recalls being completely lost in the world of biblical scholarship during his first days as a seminary student. I confess to a similar experience as an undergrad biblical studies student first exposed to the Documentary Hypothesis or the Synoptic Problem. These are important issues, but they are not the topic of church Bible studies. In fact, there were quite a few issues encountered in graduate school that I vaguely recall memorizing for an undergrad exam.

Gupta, Beginner's Guide to New Testament StudiesGupta’s goal in this slender volume is to introduce “relative newcomers to the world of the New Testament studies, not experts” (xi). In these brief chapters he offers a fair and balanced overview of an issue and consciously does not take a side in the debate. His focus is on the big picture rather than fine details. Even so, most beginning biblical studies students can be overwhelmed with these complicated debates. Every chapter in this book represents dozens of monographs on the topic, even at the introductory level. There is no need for despair, Gupta suggests, the messiness of biblical studies is part of the journey.

Gupta introduces each topic with an anecdote in order to demonstrate why the issue is important. He then surveys key scholars and positions, usually with a few footnotes to key works. Chapters conclude with a few personal reflections often reflecting Gupta’s experience teaching these issues. Each chapter concludes with a “for further reading” section divided into beginner and advanced sections. The lists are arranged by topic covered in the chapter. These are not complete bibliographies; Gupta suggests only a few key works for each topic. Interested students ought to read all the suggested beginning books as they move to graduate school.

There are three chapters on the study of the Jesus and the Gospels. The chapters on the Synoptic Problem and Historical Jesus. In the “The Fourth Gospel and History” there are only two sides, John is not historical and John is historical, but he does wonder in the conclusion to the chapter why John’s gospel is often ignored in historical Jesus studies like Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, “one of the most important Jesus books of the twentieth century” (p. 37).

He offers three chapters on Paul (Jesus and Paul; Paul’s Theological Perspective; Paul and the Jewish Law), although Paul is a major factor in virtually every chapter in the rest of the book, reflecting the soften polarizing nature of Paul’s theology. He divides the chapter on Paul’s theological perspective into Justification by Faith, Salvation History, Apocalyptic Paul, and Participation in Christ. The chapter on Paul and the Law briefly introduces E. P. Sanders and the New Perspective on Paul.

Chapter 7 introduces students to the problems of Interpreting the Book of Revelation. After a short overview of the book he describes the preterist, historicist, futurist and idealist approaches to the book. The section in futurism naturally introduces dispensationalism, one of the few positions in the book he seems dismissive, including four points explaining why most scholars reject the idea of the rapture (p. 97-8).

Chapter 8 discusses Pseudonymity and the New Testament Letters. Since many introductions to the New Testament dispute the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles, 1-2 Peter, James and Jude and have serious doubts about 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians and Colossians, Gupta first explains why these books came to be doubted in the nineteenth century. He contrasts allonymity (writing in another name rather than pseudonymity, writing with a false name) with forgery, Although Bart Ehrman is listed in the “further reading” section, Gupta does not directly deal with his work in the chapter.

In “The New Testament and the Roman Empire” (ch. 9) Gupta introduces Richard Horsley as well as post-colonial readings of the New Testament. It is important to recognize the imperial context of the New Testament, but the extent to which Paul or the writers of the Gospels engaged in a critique of the Empire is an open discussion. This chapter could be improved with additional attention to the book of Revelation since it seems to have a clear critique of the Roman Empire.

It is no exaggeration to suggest the issue of women in leadership is a hot topic in biblical studies (ch. 10). Gupta suggests this is a “convoluted issue with many texts and dimensions to consider” (p. 141). He avoids labels like fundamentalist or liberal and presents the two sides of the debate as “Hierarchical Male Authoritative Leadership” (rather than “complementarian”) and “Egalitarian Authoritative Leadership.” In his conclusion to the chapter, he suggests this debate requires further research into a biblical understanding of gender and how gender is related to culture (p. 143).

Although “Justification by Faith and Judgment according to Works” (ch. 11) sounds as though it might be a Pauline issue (and he does touch on the Wright/Piper debate), Gupta’s focus is on the basis of the final judgment (faith or works) and the relationship of initial justification to final judgment.

The final two chapters of the book discuss hermeneutical issues. The Old Testament in the New Testament (ch. 12) and Application and Use of Scripture (ch. 13). How the New Testament writers used the Old Testament has generated a wide range of articles and monographs, although this chapter manages to avoid the over-used term intertextuality (Richard Hays appears in the further reading section). Gupta’s interest here is hermeneutical strategies used by New Testament authors: did they respect the context? How does Christology influence their reading of the Old Testament?

In the final chapter on application of Scripture, Gupta contrasts a “From-the-Bible” view with a “Beyond-the-Bible” or redemptive movement hermeneutic. A “From-the-Bible” approach recognizes progressive revelation and looks for principles from Scripture to draw applications to modern ethical discussions. The “Beyond-the-Bible” view seeks to follow the trajectory of Scripture to apply earlier revelation to a new situation.

Conclusion. There are other issues which could be included in a beginner’s guide. Every scholar who reads this book will likely wonder why their area of study was omitted. For example, a chapter on early high Christology would be welcome, or a short introduction to the pistis christou debate. In fact, from the perspective of Pauline Studies, virtually every section of chapter six could be expanded. Along with the historicity of John, a chapter on the value of Acts for early church history would be a good addition. There is nothing on biblical manuscripts or textual criticism. Nevertheless, the thirteen topics Gupta chose are more or less the most important for a beginning biblical studies student to grasp before they begin their studies.

This book should be read before a student begins their academic career in biblical studies, whether that is undergraduate or graduate level. An Old Testament Beginner’s Guide would make an excellent companion to this volume.

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.

More Free Books from Eerdmans for Logos Bible Software for May 2020

Kugler and Hartin, Introduction to the BibleLogos Bible Software posted a few more free and nearly free books the month of May.  First, authors Robert Kugler and Patrick Hartin,  An Introduction to the Bible (Eerdmans, 2009) is free. Dale Allison said  this introduction to the Bible is “comprehensive, thoroughly informed, and lavishly illustrated volume, produced by the collaboration of two experts — one Protestant, one Catholic — achieves that to which it aspires: it is clarity itself. This is the perfect introduction for undergraduates.”

In addition to An Introduction to the Bible,  these titles from Eerdmans are available at a deep discount:

Jerome Neyrey, The Gospel of John in Cultural and Rhetorical Perspective ($2.99). Neyrey reads John through the lens of ancient rhetoric and cultural anthropology. This is the method developed in the volume of essays he edited, The Social World of Luke – Acts: Models for Interpretation (1991).

Judith Kovacs, 1 Corinthians: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators ($5.99). The The Church’s Bible is a commentary series baed on Early Christian Medieval Commentators. Kovacs draws commentary from Augustine, Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasius, Origen, John Chrysostom, and others.

Alan Fitzgerald, editor,  Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia. The hardback version of this 900+ page encyclopedia on Augustine retails for $100, but it is only $9.99 in the logos Library for this month.

As a reminder, the regular Free Book of the Month page still has Shalom Paul’s commentary on Isaiah 40–66 in the Eerdmans Critical Commentary for free.

Thomas B. Dozeman’s Exodus commentary in the same Eerdmans Critical Commentary ($5.99).

Michael Floyd’s Minor Prophets, Part 2 in the Forms of the Old Testament Literature Series for $2.99)

Antony Campbell’s volume on 1 Samuel in this series ($8.99). You can pick up the entire Forms of Old Testament Literature series for Logos as well.

You need to have Logos Bible Software to use these resources.  As always, there are less expensive paths to upgrading that will keep you from mortgaging your home. At the very least, download the free Logos Basic or the $79 Logos 8 Fundamentals. Use the coupon code PARTNEROFFER8 to save 30% on base packages. You can also read these books via the free iOS app.

These valuable resources are only free (or almost free) through May 31, 2020.

What are the Seven Thunders in Revelation 10?

When the mighty angel speaks, his words are like the roar of a lion and he is answered by “the seven thunders.” The angel speaks, John hears the response from the seven thunders, but he is forbidden to write these words. Why are the words of this mighty not recorded? Possibly this means the angel’s words were unintelligible (2 Cor 12:4; Betz, TDNT 9:296).

Mighty Angel William BlakeThe “roar” of the Lord is a somewhat common motif in the Old Testament. Just prior to Moses receiving the Law at Mount Sinai, the people gather around the foot of the mountain and witness thunders (plural) and lightning as well as a “very loud trumpet blast” (Exodus 19:16). Later Rabbinic literature interpreted these thunders as the voice of God. The voice was so loud all the people of the world heard the voice, and “God’s voice split up into 70 voices acc. to the 70 languages of the earth, so that each people could hear it in its own tongue” (Betz, TDNT, 9: 288). Psalm 29:3-9 a seven-fold description of the voice of God as thunder, although the word “voice” is not there seven times. There is a rabbinic tradition that the voice of God was heard as seen thunders on Mt. Sinai (Exod. Rab. 28:6, cf. 5:9.

Since the lion of Judah appears in Revelation 5:5, perhaps a voice like thunder is drawn from the metaphor of the thunderous voice of a lion. For example, Amos 1:2 begins with the words, “The LORD roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem.” Joe alludes to this text: The Lord “will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem” (3:16). The voice of God as thunder is common in other apocalyptic literature as well, “the One who thunders on high” (Sibylline Oracles 5.302). In 4 Ezra 16.10, the Lord is like a hungry lion who thunders and terrifies everyone.

Aune suggests thunder is a common “metaphor for articulate speech by supernatural beings” in both Jewish apocalyptic and Greek magical papyri (2:560). In Sibylline Oracles 5.344–345, “It will be possible to hear a heavenly crash of thunder, the voice of God throughout broad heaven above.” The “voice of the thunder” and the light of the lightning” are kept in the heavens (1 Enoch 69.23). In 2 Enoch 39.7 Enoch claims he has “heard the LORD speaking like loud thunder.” In the mystical visions of 3 Enoch, the writer “saw thunders and voices roaring in the midst of flames of fire” (3 Enoch 42.5)

In an example of a heavenly tour, Enoch is shown the secrets of the thunders:

1 Enoch 59:1-3 In those days, my eyes saw the mysteries of lightnings, and of lights, and their judgments; they flash lights for a blessing or a curse, according to the will of the Lord of the Spirits. 2 And there I (also) saw the secrets of the thunder and the secrets of (how when) it resounds in the heights of heaven its voice is heard (in) the earthly dwellings. He showed me whether the sound of the thunder is for peace and blessing or for a curse, according to the word of the Lord of the Spirits. 3 After that, all the mysteries of the lights and lightnings were shown to me (that) they glow with light for blessing and for contentment.

John prepared to write the content of the words spoken by the thunders but a “voice from heaven” prevents him. He is told to seal up the vision and not write it down. In Daniel 12:9 Daniel could not understand the angel’s explanation of his vision and he is told “the words are to remain secret and sealed until the time of the end.” On the other hand, Enoch was permitted to write down “the rumble of the thunder and the lightning” (2 Enoch 40.9).

Keeping secrets is common in Jewish apocalyptic literature. In 1 Enoch 49, for example, Enoch is shown “all the secrets in heaven.” The reason for this, as Aune suggests is that the visionary alone knows the secrets. This makes him wise and different than the reader.  It was a mark of authenticity to hold back a little revelation from the readers, if you gave it all then perhaps there were skeptics.

What did the seven thunders say?  Bousset suggested John was given another series of plague judgments like the seals, trumpets, and bowls, and that he was told not to record this series (cited by Aune 2:5620). This is certainly possible, and if so, indicates that there will be more judgements during the tribulation happening than could expected after reading Revelation. Leviticus 26 has four seven-fold plagues as a part of the curses and blessings in Leviticus (26:18, 21, 23, and 27). This would mean there were four sets of seven judgments, one set was set aside. Caird suggested the reason John is told not to record the content of the visions is because God will cancel these judgments out of his grace and mercy (Caird, 126-127). But as Beale points out, “seal up” does not have the same sense as “cancel” (Beale 535).