In the first five chapters of Romans, Paul has shown that no one is able to merit salvation by their good works. Even Abraham failed to merit salvation, so God credited him with righteousness” (Romans 4:3). In Romans 5:12-21 Paul makes the case that God has declared righteous those who have believed in Jesus,

In Romans 6:1–4 Paul describes the believer as united with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection. If it is true grace increases where sin abounds, should we sin so that grace will about all the more? (6:1-2). Paul asks this rhetorical question to expose a potential problem with his view of grace and justification. As he did earlier in the book, he answers his question with a strong negative, “by no means!”

The question concerns remaining or abiding in sin (a present subjunctive, ἐπιμένω). It is possible Paul is not talking about sin in general, but a specific sin in which the Christian continues to commit despite their understanding it as a sin. For example, a Roman man might decide that because they are saved by God’s grace through faith, going to a prostitute at a pagan temple does not “count” as a sin. Since that is a conscious choice and a regular practice, the person is choosing to remain in a sin. The question is not, “should we ever sin?” but should be persistently sin.

Where there people actually sinning so that grace might abound? It is always possible Paul is raising a hypothetical objection to his argument up through chapter 5. “Someone might say” may mean Paul could imagine this objection, so he answers it before it arises.

However, there seem to have been at least some early Christians who did in fact “sin that grace may abound.” In Jude 4, for example, there were people who used the grace of God as a license to sin. Revelation 2:20 implies some Christians in Thyatira were teaching people they could participate in banquets at pagan temples (cf. Rev 2:14-15). Certainly the congregation in Corinth struggled with how Christianity affects how the believer lives in a Gentile world.

With respect to the modern church, it seems strange someone might think they could consciously break a clear principle of God and think they were not offending God with their rebellion. It is possible the issue is breaking the Jewish boundary markers. A Gentile Christian could break Sabbath or food laws without any fear of it being a sin before God.

But there are some behaviors which clearly offend the general revelation of God so that no one, Jew or Gentile, could do them and not consider them sin!

  • As an extreme example, someone could not say, “the Law says do not murder, I am not under the Law, so I am going to kill people for fun.” No one in the Jewish or Greek world think murder is ever permissible.
  • A less absurd example is adultery. The Law does forbid adultery, but a Gentile might not consider than command applicable to going to a prostitute or using a slave for sexual pleasure.
  • More troublesome would be eating meat sacrificed to idols. This may not be expressly forbidden in the Law, but it was certainly Jewish practice in the first century. Could a Gentile eat meat purchased from the temples, with the full knowledge this meat was sacrificed to a God and not have that “count” as sin?

Whether this is a real or potential objection, Paul’s response is one of the most important elements of Pauline theology: our total identification with Jesus the death, burial and resurrection has serious ethical implications. If we are in Christ, we are no longer what we were. If that is true, can no longer live the same way because everything has changed in Christ.

Paul deals with a potential objection from his dialogue partner, a Jewish person who has tried to keep the Law but now discovers he is just as guilty as the Gentile. If the Jews have spectacularly failed to keep the Law and are enslaved to the “power of sin” in the same way the Gentiles are, what advantage is there to being a Jew?

If it is the case that God chose Israel as his people and gave to them the Law, then their failure may appear to make God’s plan in the Old Testament out to be a failure. This is a problem some readers will have when they read the Old Testament, Israel spectacularly fails in their calling to be the light to the Gentiles; they cannot even “save themselves.”

Image result for Jewish scriptureFor Paul, being Jewish is still of great advantage, Paul will return to this in Romans 9:4-5 in much more detail, here he only gives a short answer.

Paul says first, the Jewish people were entrusted with the “oracles of God” (τὰ λόγια τοῦ θεοῦ). The word translated “first” (πρῶτος) can mean first in a sequence. The ESV translates this as “to begin with…” implying the first of a series. There is no “second” item in the list, so commentators think Paul started the list, dropped it until chapter 9. But the word can also mean “of first importance.” In this view, the oracles of God are the most important advantage the Jewish people were given.

The oracles are sayings, but Acts 7:38 uses the same word for the law that was given to Moses (living oracles, λόγια ζῶντα). In Hebrews 5:12 the writer chides his readers for not having understood the “the basic principles of the oracles of God” yet. The phrase is used in 1 Peter 4:11 for words given through the Holy Spirit. In each example the logia of God are the “very words of God” given in the Law and Prophets (Kruse, Romans, 160).

Does Jewish unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? If the Jews were given the “very words of God” and failed to respond properly to them, perhaps God is not obligated to be faithful toward them.

By way of analogy, if someone acts rude and offensively toward you, sometimes it is socially acceptable to be rude back to them. Since they have broken politeness, you are no longer obligated to be polite. (Someone might react to a spouse who cheats by cheating themselves, since one covenant partner has been unfaithful, the other is released from their own commitment to faithfulness). (If you get pranked, the proper response to prank back?)

Paul’s response to this question is no, God is not released from his covenant with Israel because Israel was unfaithful. To use an analogy from Hosea and the marriage metaphor, Israel was an unfaithful partner who behaved abominably toward God’s loving kindness. Yet God has not divorced his unfaithful spouse, but is in the process of wooing them back to the relationship they had at the beginning in the wilderness.

Even though Israel was an unfaithful covenant partner, God is the ideal example of a faithful covenant partner and will fulfill his side of the covenant regardless of the rebellion of his partner.

In this verse he says only some Jews were unfaithful. Although Romans 9-11 indicates that Israel as a whole failed, there was always a righteous remnant that was faithful to the covenant. Yet even the righteous remnant failed to wholly keep the Law! Therefore Paul can conclude there is no one who can please God (Law-Keeping Jews or righteous Gentiles).

McGuckin, John Anthony. The Path of Christianity: The First Thousand Years. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2017. 1209 pgs., Hb.; $65.00 Link to IVP

John Anthony McGuckin’s new book is a substantial contribution to the intellectual and social history of the first millennium of Christianity. Intentionally designed for use in a college or seminary classroom, McGuckin provides an excellent overview of major historical movements from the apostolic era through the Great Schism.

The Path of ChristianityOften church histories from evangelical publishers lean towards a western, Protestant form of Christianity and move rapidly from the Augustine to the Reformation (when the church really started). This is not the case for The Path of Christianity for two reasons. First, the book intentionally limits itself to the first millennium of the church. Few church history textbooks limit themselves to this period. Second, McGuckin is an archpriest of the Romanian Orthodox Church and his academic interests are solidly in the pre-Reformation period. He demonstrates an encyclopedic knowledge of Church History, having written twenty-five works of historical theology, including major works on St. Cyril of Alexandria, Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Symeon as well as a survey of Orthodox Church history (The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to its History, Theology, & Spiritual Culture, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010). As a result McGuckin’s history is richly illustrated with a wide range of voices from both the eastern and western church.

The first twelve chapters of the book survey the first ten centuries of church history, from the end of the first through the eleventh century. Each chapter is well-organized and carefully outlined. The clearly marked sections will assist students as the work through the often lengthy chapters. Following each chapter is a “short reader” with excerpts from key texts from the period covered in the chapter. McGuckin also includes a “for further reading” bibliography organized into sections matching the text in the chapter.

At 144 pages, the first chapter is by far the most comprehensive as it covers the “fertile second century.” McGuckin surveys Jewish Christian groups (Encarites, Nazorenes, Ebionites, Elkesaites), Gnostic writers and Apostolic Fathers along with substantial sections on Montanism, Marcion, the Quarterodecimans, and Irenaeus. The chapter ranges into the third century with a section on the Monarchic movement (up to Hippolytus and Novatian of Rome). What is surprising about the book is the detail McGuckin is able to include. His descriptions of the four Jewish Christian groups are longer than most Church history textbooks (if they include early Jewish Christianity at all). His brief descriptions of each of the Apostolic Fathers are excellent introductions and his thirty pages on the Monarchian movement is more than enough to sort out the complexity of this issue.

As the title “Blood in the Arena” implies, the second chapter survey’s Rome’s response to Christianity from Nero through the Diocletian persecution, with attention to the status of Christianity in the Roman Empire. He has a lengthy discussion of Tertullian’s social theology as a response to imperial oppression. McGuckin includes rival non-Christian groups in this chapter (Mithras, Isis, Cyble and Manichaeism) as well as Christian relations with the Jews. Finally, McGuckin devotes a section of the chapter to the second century apologists (Justin Martyr through Minucius Felix).

The historical section also covers the development of theology as well. For example, the fifth chapter “Reconciling the World” begins with a short overview of Paul’s doctrine of reconciliation and how this doctrine was developed in both eastern and western penitential theology. McGuckin devotes about ten pages to eastern penitential canons including the rarely-discussed Synod of Ancyra in 314 and the influence of the canons of this Synod on the eastern monastic movement. This chapter has a lengthy section on the development of the monastic movement, once again beginning with its intellectual roots in the Hellenistic world and the New Testament. McGuckin includes brief sections on Syrian, Egyptian, and Palestinian monastic orders, taking into account the impact of Islam on these monastic centers. The chapter concludes with a collection of short readings from several monastic canons as well as Augustine’s Letter to a Female Monastic Community.

The second part of the book is a collection of topics of interest to scholars and historians of the first thousand years of the church. These chapters are intended as a social history of ideas and therefore trace an idea through the full thousand year period surveyed in the historical section. The topics in this section are:

  • The Bible and Its Interpretation in the Early Church
  • The Church and War
  • The Development of Christian Hymnography
  • Ways of Prayer in the Early Church
  • Women in Ancient Christianity
  • Healing and Philanthropy in Early Christianity
  • The Exercise of Authority in the Church: Orders and Offices
  • Christians and Magic
  • The Church and Wealth
  • Church and Slavery in an Age of Oppression
  • Attitudes to Sexuality in the Early Church
  • A Brief Account of Ancient Christian Art

Most of the chapters begin in the world of Hellenism and trace the issue through the biblical material into the early church. Some of these issues concern developments in worship, liturgy and art, but others are social issues (magic, wealth, slavery, sexuality). This volume is worth the price for the second half of the book alone.

For example, in his chapter on Healing and Philanthropy, McGuckin begins with healing in ancient Hellenism before quickly surveying the New Testament and patristic writers. He traces the same history for philanthropy, although the Hellenistic section is longer in this case. These two thread are combined in a short section on philanthropy in the Byzantine liturgy and the Hospital as symbol of the church. He includes short readings on the topic from biblical literature (Wisdom, Sirach, Luke, James and Paul), Gregory of Nazianzus and Pseudo-Basil.

McGuckin’s chapter on the development of Christian hymnody also begins with origin of Greek hymns (perhaps found in the Pauline letters) and compares them to pre-Christian Hellenistic hymns. There is a larger collection of short readings for this chapter in order to illustrate some of the more obscure early Christian hymns. These hymns are often translated by McGuckin and are annotated with comments suggesting poetic allusions. For most readers, this collection of hymns may be a first introduction to the vast number of hymns, songs and sacred poetry from the first millennium of the church.

As the bibliographies make clear, each chapter in this book is worthy of a monograph. In fact, given the length of the chapters and the slightly small font, several chapters could have been published as short stand-alone books. Despite the length of the book, McGuckin distills complex historical problems into a readable chapters and offers the interested reader an excellent list of resources to go much deeper. For students, these chapters are excellent introductions, but also resources for further research and writing.

Conclusion. Because McGuckin’s The Path of Christianity is so detailed, it is an important contribution to the study of church history. It is written in a style which will appear to the general reader as well as a student in a seminary class. But the massive amount of data in the book makes in a valuable reference work as well. It is possible the book is too much for classroom use, especially in a single, general seminary church history class. Nevertheless, the book will serve well as a standard reference for early church history.

 

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

 

From the book of Acts we know Paul wrote Romans after a long and bitter controversies in both Galatia and Corinth. As a result of these conflicts, Romans “constitutes a ‘manifesto’ setting forth his deepest convictions on central issues” (Kruse, Romans, 9). This manifesto was written and published to gain the widest publicity. It is possible the core of the letter was sent to other Pauline churches, although there is no manuscript evidence for this.

Paul also wrote Romans just prior to his trip to Jerusalem to deliver the collection to the poor saints in Jerusalem. The book of Romans may have been intended to gain the favor of the Roman church as he approached the contentious Jerusalem church. Romans 15:30-33 specifically asks the Roman church to pray for Paul because he is not sure what reception he will receive when he arrives in Jerusalem.

paul-statue-romeThat he calls his potential opponents in Jerusalem “unbelievers” is instructive. It is at least possible he means the gentile, Roman authority in Judea. Certainly the Romans would be suspicious of a cash gift to potential revolutionaries! He also may mean Jews who have not accepted Jesus as messiah and are therefore not part of the community led by James? But could Paul be referring to the Jewish believers in Jesus as the Messiah who insisted on Gentiles keeping the Law, the Judaizers who worked against his mission in Galatia.

Whatever the case, Paul assumes Roman church had close ties with Jerusalem and some communication regularly occurred between these two communities. Paul may have though the Roman church had some level of influence on Jerusalem leaders like James, the brother of Jesus. In fact. At least one scholar suggested the real target audience of the letter is the Jerusalem church. Paul wants the letter to get to the potentially hostile Jerusalem church to make clear his theology in order to diffuse any suspicion.

With this in mind, Paul wrote Romans gain the cooperation of the Roman church for his mission to Spain. He needed the assistance of the Roman Christians to provide contacts in Spain because of the lack of Jewish population there that could provide him with a base of operations. Paul faced an unusual problem in Spain, Greek was commonly spoken. He may have needed local help from Romans to assist him in Latin. Romans would then be a kind of discipleship letter which ensured the Roman churches were equipped with his Gospel and were not exported a Roman system of pursuit of honor to “barbarian Spain.” Paul argues in Romans that God saves all sinners impartially regardless of culture through Jesus Christ.

As F. F. Bruce pointed out in The Romans Debate, any combination of the suggestions made over my last several posts may be in the background of Romans. Paul had several motivations to write a complex book like Romans, in contrast to a letter like Galatians which is targeted at a single issue, or 1 Corinthians which deals with serious problems in the church and answers several questions.

Unlike most of Paul’s letters, the occasion for the letter is not obvious. Although there seems to be a clear purpose statement in 15:24-29, it is not clear why Paul would have written the bulk of the book to support that purpose. There is no indication he is responding to questions from the Roman church nor does he address reported problems in the church similar to 1 Corinthians or 1 Thessalonians. Paul has yet to visit the church and it does not appear he has had an influence on the church prior to this letter (unlike Colossians, for example, a church founded by a disciple of Paul).

scribe-at-workThe consensus view until modern scholarship is that the main purpose of Romans is to set forth Paul’s theology in clear terms. He begins with sin, then on to salvation by grace, the role of the law, sanctification and finally the practice of the Christian life. For many, Romans is as close to a systematic theology as we get from Paul. In fact, many modern Systematic theologies follow this same general outline.

But if this is a “compendium of Pauline Theology,” there is a great deal missing (the resurrection of Jesus, for example), and it is difficult to account for Romans 9-11. Paul’s discussion of Israel is often treated like a digression from his main point, as if it could be dropped from the book without damaging Paul’s argument. One additional factor is fact Paul’s letters are all written in some historical and social context. He did not appear to write books for the sake of putting his thoughts down for future generations to read and ponder.

Is Paul responding to a situation within the Roman Church? (I am heavily indebted to Colin Kruse, Romans, 8-9 for this section.) There are several suggestions for explaining Paul’s pastoral response.

First, since the Roman church was not established by an apostle, Paul wrote Romans to provide the church with an “apostolic presentation of the gospel (Fitzmyer, Romans, 75; Kruse, Romans, 8).” Paul would do this in person when he arrives in Rome, but the letter offers a “pre-read” for the church prior to Paul’s arrival.

Second, Christian Jews expelled from Rome by Claudius returned to find the house churches in Rome now organized much differently than the Jewish synagogue. The Jewish Christians found they were not the minority within a Gentile church. Paul therefore wrote Romans to encourage the Gentiles to live in harmony with Jewish Christian. But this suggestion has some difficult because there is no evidence Gentile converts had rejected distinctive Jewish practices. Unlike Galatia, it is possible the only Gentile converts in Rome were God Fearing Gentiles and quite happy with most Jewish practices.

Third, since the status of the Law is an important issue in Romans, Paul may have written because Christian Jews who continue to observe the law were now in conflict with law-free Gentile Christians. This is like other Pauline churches, but it is not clear Gentiles in the Roman church had rejected the Jewish Law. Nor is there evidence of Judaizers in Rome. Roman Gentile Christians do not seem to have struggled with Judaizers like the Galatia Christians did. Romans 14-15 is unclear on who the weak and strong are and vague about the actually issues at stake. There may have been some God-fearing Gentiles who kept some the Law and other Gentiles who came into the church who were not at all attracted to Jewish traditions.

Fourth, it is possible Paul did not consider the Roman Christians to have been “evangelized” yet. In Romans 15:15-16 Paul says he has written boldly to the church, so that “so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” The letter therefore demands a response to the gospel from the Roman readers with respect to Paul’s understanding of the Gospel.

Fifth, it is also possible Paul wanted the Roman Christians to hear his gospel in order to draw them “apostolic orbit” (Kruse, Romans, 8). Since Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles, he may have felt the Gentile believers were part of his commission regardless of how they originally came to hear the Gospel. Perhaps Romans 15:20 is an apology for taking as long as he has to come to Rome, the largest and most important city in the Empire (Fitzmyer, Romans, 76). If the Roman churches had grown to the extent Nero could use them as a scapegoat (ten years after Romans was written), then Paul cold be accused of overlooking a significant population of Gentile Christians.

In summary, any of these suggestions (or a combination of them) could explain why Paul wrote the letter to the Roman church. But it is possible he was motivated to write the later because he was moving into a new stage of his apostolic ministry rather than to meet some pastoral need in the church.

 

Paul addressed the book we call Romans to Christians living in Rome. At the time the letter was written, he had not yet visited the city as far as we know and he does not personally know Christians in Rome. Although he may have something about the church through Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:1-4), there is nothing to suggest he ministered there until he arrives about A.D. 60 (Acts 28:11-31). How did Christianity come to Rome?

The traditional view is the Roman church was founded by both Peter and Paul is rarely accept today. According to Eusebius, Peter followed the ach-heretic Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8) to Rome in the second year of Claudius (A.D. 42). According to Eusebius, the Gospel Peter preached at this time was so well received the Roman people demanded a written copy, which became the Gospel of Mark, a tradition also found in Irenaeus.

Eusebuis, Hist. eccl. 2.15.1 And so greatly did the splendor of piety illumine the minds of Peter’s hearers that they were not satisfied with hearing once only, and were not content with the unwritten teaching of the divine Gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, a follower of Peter, and the one whose Gospel is extant, that he would leave them a written monument of the doctrine which had been orally communicated to them.

Irenaeus, Haer. 3.1 Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church.

Setting this tradition aside, the modern 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).  Craig Keener says 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, 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.

Image result for Roman Christians catacombsJewish Christianity would have come to Rome soon after Pentecost as Jews visiting Jerusalem in A. D. 30 or 33 returned home (depending on the date of the crucifixtion). 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

Related imageThis 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. In fact, this may be the occasion for the letter.

The background to 2 Corinthians is complicated by letters from Paul we do not have as well as visits to Corinth by Paul, Timothy and Titus. An additional problem is 2 Corinthians is a compilation of several other letters. Perhaps parts of 2 Corinthians contain other letters sent by Paul (the so-called “tearful letter”). Some suggest chapters 8 and 9 are separate letters dealing with the collection, and chapters 10-12 are yet another letter dealing with the super-apostles. I would recommend any serious commentary on 2 Corinthians for an overview of these suggestions or an introduction to the New Testament such as Raymond Brown. Combining letters around a similar theme is not surprising, but it is also not necessary to understand the overall theme of the whole letter: the need for reconciliation between Paul and the church.

First, Paul must deal with the damage in his relationship the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 1-7). The church did not receive the letter of 1 Corinthians well and Paul’s attempts to deal with the tensions seem to have created more problems. The reason Paul did not return to Corinth is to spare them from another difficult visit (1:23-2:1). Paul admits he has caused the church a great deal of pain, but (with God as his witness), he did not intend it that way. Although he does admit he may have caused the pain the church felt after 1 Corinthians, the “tearful letter” and the painful visit.

Paul wanted to gladden those he had pained, but the pain was ultimately necessary. His tough letter was written to make it possible for him to have a “joyful visit” the next time he came to Corinth (2:3). Paul was confident the church world respond to his tearful letter, even if there was come fear it might cause them pain. But not all grief and pain is bad, in fact godly grief produces a great deal of positive virtues. If Paul had upset them with his strong challenge, that pain is a positive benefit if they are reconciled to him

Second, Paul must encourage the Corinthian church to make good on their promise to participate in the collection he has made for the poor saints in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8-9). Paul’s collection would have looked very suspicious to a resident of a Roman city like Corinth. Public works were not funded through taxation or public fundraising, but through wealthy people who want to gain honor from public benefaction. There is no honor in putting money into general fund and sending it off to distant (non-Roman) city to be used to help poor people. It is no surprise at all the Corinth church was slow to participate in the Collection. But it is remarkable (from a modern Christian perspective) this wealthy Christian church refused to participate in Paul’s collection to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem. But now that Paul and the church have reconciled, it is now time for the church to participate in this important ministry Paul initiated. In fact, for Paul, participating in this gracious gift is an opportunity to render a service to God.

Third, Paul must deal with some competition in the church, the so-called “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 10-13). Paul probably coined this sarcastic description of his opponents, but it may be based on the attitude of the opponents themselves. They consider themselves to be superior to Paul in terms of honor, use of rhetoric, and perhaps even blessings from God. Some have argued this is a reference to the apostles in Jerusalem, but it seems unlikely Paul would refer the Twelve with this snarky title. More likely the super apostles are Greeks in Corinth who have accepted the Gospel but are now behaving like Greek intellectuals. Like many of the other issues in Corinth, Paul is dealing with a pagan worldview in the church. The opponents appear to be trained communicators (v. 6) and accepted patronage from the church (v. 7-9). This would be consistent with any other Greco-Roman philosopher or teach and more or less expected by the Corinthian congregation. Rather than superior apostles, the opponents are like Satan, masquerading true apostles (11:12-15). Rather than boast in his accomplishments, Paul choose to boast in his suffering as a servant of Jesus Christ. Boasting in beatings and arrests is an outrageous reversal of what the super-apostles consider to be indicators of divine favor. Paul claims in these final chapters of the book that the follower of Christ can expect to suffer as Christ himself did.

Le Peau, Andrew T. Mark through Old Testament Eyes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2017. Pb. 352 pp. $28.99.   Link to Kregel

As Andrew Le Peau observes in the introduction to this new commentary series, the New Testament writers were Old Testament people. Although this seems like an obvious statement, the symbols and literary patterns of the Old Testament are often overlooked in popular preaching and teaching on New Testament books. Although scholarship has done a better job setting the documents of the New Testament into the context of the Old in recent years, there is still much to be done to develop the database of background material available to illuminate the New Testament. There have been a few recent contributions in this area, D. A. Carson and G. K. Beale edited a single-volume Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (IVP 2007) and the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary on the Old Testament and New Testament (2009 with many of the individual books available in separate volumes).  Although many commentaries include this sort of background material, there are few commentaries which focus exclusively on how the New Testament writers used the Old Testament.

Mark Through Old Testament EyesThis series of commentaries will provide a verse-by-verse commentary which integrates typical exegesis of the text with Old Testament background in order to help answer questions as they arise. With respect to the exposition of the text, Le Peau comments on key phrases with an eye to Old Testament parallels rather than the typical exegetical details found in most commentaries. For example, at Mark 9:43 “if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off,” Le Peau briefly discusses prohibitions on self-mutilation in the Law (Deut 14:1-3) as well as ancient  pagan practice (1 Kings 18:27-29). He also draws attention to the hand, foot and eye as a source of stumbling in Proverbs 6:16-10 and Job 31:1, 5, 7. In his commentary on Mark 3:37, Le Peau draws attention to the provision of abundant food is a “picture that looks ahead to Isaiah’s coming messianic kingdom” (123). He cites Isaiah 55:1-3 at length, but also notes the miraculous feeding in Numbers 11 and 2 Kings 4:42-44.

Throughout the commentary section, Greek and Hebrew words are used sparingly and always appear transliterated so those without language skills will have no trouble making use of the commentary. There is some interaction with contemporary scholarship, although this is light and all references appears in endnotes.

Throughout the commentary are a number of sidebars entitled “Through Old Testament Eyes.” These units focus on the big picture to show how a particular text picks up on themes and motifs from the Old Testament. For example, Le Peau offers a chart in his exposition of the feeding of the five thousand tracing parallels between Psalm 23 and Mark 6. I briefly commented on Psalm 23 as a messianic text and potential background for this miracle in Jesus the Bridegroom, so it is good to see the Psalm used to interpret a miracle often used to preach brotherly sharing rather than a miracle which reveals Jesus as the Messiah. Another example of this kind of sidebar is Le Peau’s short description of the suffering of the messiah in the Psalms to illuminate Mark 14-15 (275-8).

A second type of sidebar in this commentary series is labeled “What the Structure Means.” These sections focus on literary devices such as metaphor, hyperbole, or other elements of story-telling. Often these take the form of an outline of a pericope with attention to chiasms or other features. In Mark 10:13-52 he lists four predictions and a prediction which frame the unit. In another place Le Peau offers a list of examples in Mark of sets of three events (272-3) and draws attention to this literary style in the Old Testament.

One problem with scholarly background studies is a failure to connect the context with the contemporary reader. This commentary hopes to avoid this my balancing the background element with an application section. These sections are labeled “Going Deeper” and intend to connect the text of a New Testament book with internal debates within the early church as well as draw out implications for contemporary church questions. For example, the “Going Deeper” section following Le Peau’s exposition of Mark 9:14-50 is a pastoral reflection on anger and quarrelsomeness (173-2). The section following Mark 13:12 deals with a non-eschatological understanding of “watching and being alert.” The focus is on understanding suffering as a part of the disciple’s calling. Although this application is quite preachable, I am not sure the application arises from the text of the Olivet Discourse. The actual text of the commentary does a good job with the Old Testament (Daniel 7) and Second Temple (1 Maccabees) backgrounds to Jesus’s words and even notices the shift in 13:27 from the Temple in A.D. 70 to the “end of the age.” It seems to me the natural application in that section ought to concern a warning against false predictions of the end in the light of the very real end which will eventually arrive.

I have a few minor problems with this commentary which probably fall into the category of “this is not the book I would have written.” First, Le Peau’s commentary on Mark does not deal with introductory issues in any depth. There are two pages under the heading “Who was Mark?” which deal with the few appearances of Mark in Acts and the epistles along with an ancient African tradition about Mark’s family. Since the purpose of the commentary to provide background to read the Gospel of Mark, perhaps more ought to be said about traditional authorship. For example, if the tradition Mark was Peter’s interpreter in Rome is accurate, what does his use of the Old Testament imply about the original audience and intention of the Gospel? What does the use of a New Exodus motif imply about the audience?

Second, there is a very short introduction to the use of the Old Testament in the Gospel. Most of this four page section involves an illustration drawn from contemporary movies. Although this analogy does explain how a writer might allude to an earlier work, it fails to explain why Mark would use the Old Testament in the way he does. Mark is not paying tribute to Isaiah for his contributions to prophetic writing; Mark is alluding to Isaiah’s New Exodus motif because he believes Jesus is really enacting the metanarrative of the whole Old Testament and placing himself in the center of that story. I realize Le Peau simply does not have space to write a fully argued methodology in the introduction to this commentary, but improving this introduction would pay dividends as readers use the commentary to read Mark.

Third, although this might be less interesting to evangelical readers, I think the commentary could be improved by occasionally tracing a motif through the literature of the Second Temple period. In my review of the text, I only noticed a few references to 1 Maccabees in the context of the abomination of desolation and there are no references to the Apocrypha or Pseudepigrapha in the Scripture index. Although this is not always possible, perhaps using the Dead Sea Scrolls as background for son of David sayings or the messianic banquet would set the Gospel of Mark into a more broadly Jewish context.

A final comment goes beyond the scope of the commentary, but I raise it since few scholars have asked the question. In the commentary, Le Peau understands allusions to the Old Testament are a product of Mark’s narration of the events. But to what extent did the historical Jesus shape traditions by alluding the Old Testament himself?  If Mark 4:11 fairly records the words of Jesus, then the allusion to Daniel 2 and 4 in the phrase “mystery of the kingdom” comes from Jesus rather than Mark. If this is the case, does it affect the exegesis of Mark 4?

Nevertheless, Le Peau contributes a good commentary on Mark which focuses on an often overlooked aspect of New Testament research.

This is the inaugural volume of a new series from Kregel Academic, with four other volumes planned at this time (David Capes on Matthew, Karen Jobes on John, Gary Burge on Galatians and Ephesians, and Tremper Longman on Revelation). My copy of this book has a number of strange spacing errors in when the text is italicized, hopefully this can be corrected in future reprints of the commentary (p. 27, the word Spirit, p. 39, the phrase Kingdom of God; p. 49, the word quiet, p. 51, the word healed, etc.) This is a minor problem and does not detract from the value of the commentary.

 

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.

Published on August 25, 2017 on Reading Acts.

After sending the tearful letter with Titus, Paul planned to meet with Titus in Troas for a report. When this meeting did not happen, Paul grew concerned the Corinthian church was upset with him. Titus was a Greek co-worker of Paul mentioned in several letters, including a short letter written to him while he was working with churches in Crete. Titus is a long-time co-worker, since Paul had taken Titus to Jerusalem before Acts 15 to show that God was working among the Gentiles (Gal 2:3).

Image result for apostle Paul weepingPaul said in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11 he was in “deadly peril in Asia,” probably indicating a time of suffering in Ephesus. This may have included an arrest although it is not mentioned directly in Acts, Philippians may imply Paul was arrested and placed in custody in Ephesus. In 1 Corinthians 15:32 he refers to “fighting the wild beasts in Ephesus,” which could refer to literal animals, or vicious opponents who behaved like animals. Paul listed many afflictions described in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, and perhaps even his “thorn in the flesh” (12:7) is in mind here.

“Fightings without and fears within” implies he had considerable internal fear concerning this persecution or even the success of his mission in Ephesus and later in Troas. Why world Paul be afraid? “It probably seemed to Paul that from the human point of view his whole future as apostle to the Gentiles was related to the Corinthians’ reaction to his assertion of authority in the letter delivered by Titus. And now the non-arrival of Titus tended to confirm his worst fears.” (Garland, 351, citing Harris).

Paul’s missed connection with Titus may have aroused fears for Titus’s own safety, since many thing could have happened to him when he traveled to Troas. This tends to be human nature, if someone is very late arriving we tend to create a worst case scenario and worry about that (perhaps unlikely) possibility.

Another aspect of this fear may have been a result of the attacks he faced in Corinth. What if his opponents convinced the church to reject Paul as an apostle and no longer listen to him as the Lord’s appointed representative? The very fact he is being challenged by someone in the congregation was humiliating to him personally, he has lost honor and been humbled by his challengers in the church.

Titus was not sent to the church to attack them or forcibly get them back in line with Paul’s orders. He was sent to deal with a serious spiritual challenge, there was real sin in the church that needed to be confronted and excised from the congregation. Paul is not like a medieval bishop who imposes an unwelcome order on a fearful congregation!

Paul describes his time of uncertainty as “mourning,” but the news from Titus was a cause for rejoicing. The church was not upset from the tearful letter, they were in fact comforted, Titus was comforted by their response, and finally Paul himself was comforted by the news from the church. This church was on grief over the letter, but the grief is “contrition over their past behavior or a sense of loss from Paul’s decision to continue to stay clear of Corinth” (Garland, 353).

In summary, the “tearful letter” was a necessary thing, but now that they have responded positively, Paul apologizes for the pain he caused the church. Paul was confident the church world respond to his tearful letter, even if there was come fear it might cause them pain. But not all grief and pain is bad, in fact godly grief produces a great deal of positive virtues. If Paul had upset them with his strong challenge, that pain is a positive benefit if they are reconciled to him.

 

In 2 Corinthians 2:12-13 Paul says he went to Troas and after a long digression he picks up that thread again in 7:5. If we were reading the letter straight through, or hearing the letter read to us for the first time, we might have expected Paul’s response to meeting Titus and hearing the report that of a favorable response to the tearful letter.

Paul seems a little defensive in this verse, he claims to have wronged no one.

  • “We wronged no one.” To “wrong” someone (ἀδικέω) can refer to physically mistreating someone, but can also refer to a legal injury, with the sense of doing an injustice to someone. Perhaps Paul’s opponents in the Corinthian church accused Paul of being too harsh in dealing with the incestuous man, perhaps treating him in a way that damaged his honor in the city of Corinth.
  • “We have corrupted no one.” The verb φθείρω can mean either “ruin financially” or “corrupt” in the matter of doctrine or morals” (Harris, 517). This accusation has the connotation of ruining someone financially. It is true Paul has told his congregations to be wary of business relationships with the unsaved. If some in the church followed that recommendation, then his opponents could accuse Paul of intentionally ruining people financially.
  • “We have taken advantage of no one.” The verb (πλεονεκτέω) has the sense of cheating someone financially. This might be a hint of some accusation about the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem, a topic Paul will shift to after this section of the book. Paul’s opponents may have been suspicious of this collection since it was not at all common for someone to collect money and even less common to give collected money to another city.

Since he has behaved properly toward the church, Paul asks the church to open up to him so that he may be reconciled with the church. This is a common metaphor even in contemporary English, to be “in someone’s heart” is to have a close personal relationship; “openheartedness” implies such a close relationship that being completely transparent is possible.

Image result for open heartPaul had already opened his heart to them when he confronted them about their sin and what they needed to do to deal with that sin. Paul is now hopeful the church would also find some room for him so reconciliation can happen.

Paul’s love for the congregation leads to a level of frankness which could be understood as offensive. Since Paul had to correct obvious sins, the church could potentially be hurt by his words (v. 3-4).

The tone of the tearful letter could be interpreted as “putting them in their place.” Tone is almost impossible to convey in writing, and after the Paul’s last visit to the church it would have been easy to read the tearful letter as a harsh condemnation.

A factor modern readers may overlook is the social status of Paul and the church at Corinth. By speaking frankly, Paul could be interpreted as asserting his higher social status, perhaps “pulling rank” on the Corinthians. This was not the relationship Paul wanted to have with his churches. Paul and the Corinthians are “fellow-servants” of Christ and Paul regularly calls them “brothers.” Paul’s love is so deep for the Corinthian believers that he is willing to “live or die with them (v. 3). Some might think of this as a rhetorical flourish, but Paul was genuinely willing to lay his life down on behalf of the church, something he often demonstrated in ministry.

In summary, at the beginning of the letter Paul was concerned the tearful letter had caused the church sorrow, and perhaps caused the rift between himself and the church. After 2:14 he drops this feeling, only now expressing joy in the positive response from the church. But there was a long, tense period of time when Paul was unsure how the letter would be received, so in this next section he describes the depth of his sorrow and how that sorrow turned to joy when he finally heard from Titus the good news from the church.

Follow Reading Acts on WordPress.com

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

Join 3,708 other followers

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

Christian Theology

%d bloggers like this: