Book Review: Matthew S. Harmon, Rebels and Exiles: A Biblical Theology of Sin and Restoration

Harmon, Matthew S. Rebels and Exiles: A Biblical Theology of Sin and Restoration. Essential Studies in Biblical Theology; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. 207 pp. Pb; $22.  Link to IVP Academic

The Essential Studies in Biblical Theology attempt to span the whole canon of Scripture and seeks to connect the theme to the person of Christ. In this third volume of the series, Matthew Harmon traces the related themes of sin and exile from the original rebellion in the Garden of Eden to the end of the exile in the New Creation. Harmon (PhD, Wheaton College) serves as professor of New Testament studies at Grace College and Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. Harmon’s The Servant of the Lord and His Servant People: Tracing a Biblical Theme Through the Canon (NSBT) will be published in January 2021. He has also written commentaries on Galatians, Philippians, 2 Peter, and Jude.

Harmon, Rebels and ExilesHarmon acknowledges the catalyst for significant attention on the theme of exile and restoration is the work of N. T. Wright. Wright argues the “return from exile” motif is central for understanding the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Wright himself has published several books and essays on this topic, and these works have generated responses from various scholars. However, this book is not slavishly devoted to Wright, even if his influence is not far from the surface. Harmon’s goal in the book is clearly present how Scripture describes the believer’s experience of exile as “a longing for a place we have never been.” The German word Fernweh expresses this idea (3). He relates this to well-known books (The Hobbit) and films (Terminal), although I am surprised Harmon does not refer to the U2 song “All that you Can’t Leave Behind.”

This longing results from the fall. Harmon therefore begins with a summary of the Fall, “Humanity’s Original Rebellion and Exile” (ch. 1). When humans rebelled and were exiled from the Garden, they lost their status as God’s people, their place in Eden and their experience of God’s presence in the earthly sanctuary of Eden. The promise to Abram in Genesis 12 begins the restoration of these three things; God promised Abram that his descendants will be the people of God, that people will have a place (a land), and a new Edenic home where God’s presence will dwell with them (23).

Chapters 2-3 deal with the reality of the exile foreshadowed as early as Mount Sinai and the golden calf incident. Abraham’s descendants are as rebellious as Adam and will suffer the same kind of exile from the land. Harmon rightly shows the curses for failure to keep the Law result in exile from the land where God’s presence dwells. He traces this theme (briefly) from Joshua to 2 Kings. He describes life in exile as a time when some of God’s people remained faithful to Yahweh (Daniel, for example) while others continued their rebellion against God (Ezekiel 14).

The fourth chapter of the book deals with the prophetic anticipation of the return from exile when Israel repents. The prophets balance nearly every threat of exile with a promise of restoration. Harmon points out four aspects of these promises. First, God promises a restoration of Temple worship. Second, God’s people will (finally) keep his law (Torah). Third, God will restore his people to a particular land (turf, to keep the alliteration going). Fourth, a Davidic king will rule over this restored people (a throne). Harmon argues these four restoration promises embody the foundational components of people, place, and presence lost in the original fall, but promised in the Abrahamic covenant (67).

Since this restoration will require a New Covenant, Harmon examines new covenant language in Isaiah 40-55, Jeremiah 31, and Ezekiel 34-37. The exiles who returned to Judea in 539 B.C. expected these promises to be fulfilled, but reality did not live up to expectation. They rebuilt the Temple, but God did not fill the second temple with his glory. The returned exiles kept the Torah, but there was still rebellion as demonstrated by the problems addressed by Nehemiah and Malachi. The restored exiles only possessed a fraction of the land and a Davidic king never appeared to rule a restored kingdom. As Harmon describes it, the four aspects of restoration (Temple, Torah, Turf, and Throne) were inaugurated, but not consummated.

Chapters 5-6 pick up the restoration from exile theme from the prophets and apply it to the life and ministry of Jesus, but especially in his death, resurrection and ascension. Harmon follows N. T. Wright closely here and argues Jesus inaugurates the restoration from exile through his ministry. This restoration is demonstrated by his healing the sick (expected in Isaiah 35:5-7, for example), his authority over the demonic realm, and in his teaching ministry. But it is in his death that Jesus brings an end to humanity’s exile. First, Jesus dies as the suffering servant promise by Isaiah. Second, Jesus ends humanity’s exile by drinking the cup of God’s wrath. Third, Jesus ends the exile by dying at Passover as the Passover lamb who takes away the sins of the world. The resurrection in the ascension represents God vindicating Jesus as the one who ends the exile. Harmon considers this an inauguration of the New Covenant and the end of the exile, but the end will not be consummated until the (future) return of Christ (108).

Harmon then turns to the epistles to develop exile themes (ch. 7, “Life as Exiles in a Fallen World”). Given the title for the chapter, it is not surprising that he gives serious attention to the letter of 1 Peter. He excepts the dominant view that 1 Peter was written to Gentile believers, although this once dominant view has a few recent dissenters. This does not distract from Harmon’s point that the letter portrays believers as sojourners and exiles in a fallen world. Through the death of Jesus, sinners are formed into a renewed and redeemed people, yet they are still living in a foreign land and looking forward to the end of the exile. Second, he turns to Hebrews and James as examples of how the church continues to live in exile. Like with 1 Peter, Hebrews and James seem clearly addressed to Jewish Christians who would resonate with the metaphor of exile.  Harmon includes four pages on two Pauline letters, although this is not as convincing as his sections on 1 Peter, Hebrews and James. Regarding Galatians, the examples Harmon offers have little to do with exile. For Philippians, focuses on citizenship in heaven. In either case the exile is not prominent, or even mentioned.

The penultimate chapter examines the book of Revelation and the ultimate end of Exile in the New Creation. There is nothing in this chapter on Revelation as a whole in this chapter, although the book has a great deal to say about living as an exile and second exodus themes run through the main section of the book. Harmon’s focus is in a “final exile” (Rev 20:11-15) and the new heaven and new earth. As expected, Harmon sees the description of the new creation in Revelation 21:1-5 as a new Eden. The river of life flowing recalls the rivers of the original Eden, and the tree of life returns. There is no hint of anything cursed in the new creation, so God’s glorious presence fills the new creation and humans are at least able to live out their purpose of the image bearers of God: “his servants will serve him” (136).

Harmon concludes this book with a chapter on practical implications of sin, exile, and restoration. Please seven brief points are pastoral, focusing on what God has done to fix the brokenness of this world, reminding us that this fallen world is not our home and that are true hope lies in the restoration planned by God from the beginning.

Conclusion. Since one goal of the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology series is accessibility to beginning students and laypeople, Harmon’s book does not interact in detail with scholarly work on the exile and restoration. He has a section of recommendations for further reading divided into beginner, intermediate, and advanced studies. He includes the very popular text by Lee Beach, The Church in Exile (IVP 2015) and Stephen Dempster’s Dominion and Dynasty (IVP 2003). Several of the advanced studies interact with N. T. Wright, including two important essay collections: Carey Newman’s Jesus and the Restoration of Israel and James Scott’s Exile: A Conversation with N. T. Wright.

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.

Logos Flash Sale on New Studies in Biblical Theology

New Studies in Biblical Theology (45 vols.)

June 21–23 only, enjoy great savings on D. A. Carson’s New Studies in Biblical Theology from IVP Academic.  Individual volumes are $9.99, or get the whole set for $399. Back in February Logos gave away Mark Seifrid’s Christ, Our Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Justification (2000) and offered great discounts on Peter G. Bolt, The Cross from a Distance: Atonement in Mark’s Gospel (2004) and Craig Blomberg’s Contagious Holiness:Jesus’ Meals with Sinners (2005). If you did buy those three in February, the cost of the whole set will be lower; Logos will not charge you for books you already own.

If you are unfamiliar with this series, the original Studies in Biblical Theology was published by SCM Press from 1952 through 1973. It included several important volumes, such as Early Christian Worship by Oscar Cullmann, Christ in the Wilderness by Ulrich W. Mauser and The Rediscovery of Apocalyptic by Klaus Koch. In 1995 IVP Academic re-booted the series with D. A. Carson as the series editor. Here is a summary of the first 35 volumes at the Gospel Coalition.

I have reviewed a few titles in the series (I have several more in my reading pile).

The sale does not include Peter T. O’Brien’s God Has Spoken in His Son: A Biblical Theology of Hebrews (2016; it was withdrawn from the series) or the recently published All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Capstone by Brian J. Tabb.

Logos Bible Software also released a major upgrade at the end of 2018.  I did a “first look” review of Logos 8 here. There are plenty of new features to justify an upgrade and the software runs much more efficiently than the previous version (everything runs faster than Logos 7). You can save 25% on any upgrades to Logos 8 and pick five free books when you upgrade to Logos 8. Follow the link and used the code READINGACTS8.

Look over the titles on the Logos sale page, I am sure you will find many interesting studies to add to your Logos collection. But do not wait too long, the sale is over midnight PDT, June 23, 2019.

Book Review: Andrew T. Abernethy, The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom

Abernethy, Andrew T. The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom: A Thematic-Theological Approach. NSBT 40; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2016. 245 pp. Pb; $25.  Link to IVP

This new contribution to the New Studies in Biblical Theology series focuses on the theme of Kingdom in the book of Isaiah. The topic of kingdom in the whole canon of Scripture is too large for a short monograph, but by limiting the discussion to Isaiah Abernethy is able to provide a reasonable foundation for understanding the book of Isaiah and its foundational role in a Christian understanding of Jesus. Abernethy’s previous book on Isaiah focused on the theme of food in Isaiah (Eating in Isaiah: Approaching the Role of Food and Drink in Isaiah’s Structure and Message. Leiden: Brill 2014, reviewed here).

abernety-isaiahIn his introduction, Abernethy describes his approach in this book as synchronic since he is interpreting the book of Isaiah as a literary whole without being concerned about the historical formation of the book. This approach recognizes the coherence of the whole book of Isaiah through a network of intentional literary associations in each of the major sections of the book. Be he is quick to point out that although questions of historical process for the formation of the book are set aside, history is important for interpreting the book of Isaiah. He will divide this large book into the standard three sections commonly used by scholars so that Isaiah 1-39 are rooted in the Assyrian era, Isaiah 40-55 are rooted in the Babylonian era (with 44-45 in the Persian era). Isaiah 55-66 represent the struggles of the post-exilic period in the light of the eschaton. This “metahistory” is derived from the final form of the book regardless of how the book was formed.

The whole book of Isaiah “endeavours to orient the allegiance of its readers around a king, namely YHWH” (13). The first three chapters survey what Isaiah says about God in the three major units of Isaiah. After commenting on a unit in Isaiah, Abernethy offers a few paragraphs on the unit in the canon of Scripture, specifically on how the unit “bears witness to Christ: (29). These brief reflections are intended to be more than sterile “Old Testament in the New” lists. Isaiah 1-39, especially since some of the texts Abernethy uses are not directly cited in the New Testament. For example, there is no direct citation of Isaiah 25:6-8 in the New Testament, but Abernethy finds intertextual allusions or echoes in the Last Supper (cf. Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper, 448-58 or my Jesus the Bridegroom, 202-4). Other canonical reflections seem strained For example, Abernethy relates Isaiah 36-37 to kingdom language in Matthew, especially the interactions between Jesus and Pilate. This particular example falls well below even a nebulous allusion, although the point may be more clear if this were a monograph on a biblical theology of Kingdom in Matthew.

Chapter 1 reviews the presentation of God as the “king now and to come” (Isaiah 1-39). Abernethy begins with Isaiah’s throne vision to argue that God is the only king and that he is about to render “purifying judgment” on his people (20). In fact, the theme of Isaiah 1-39 can be fairly described as “who is the real king?” The king in Jerusalem is dead, and despite his boasts, Sennacherib is not the true king. The throne vision therefore stands in the center of Isaiah 1-12 in order to throw light on the narrative of Isaiah 1-5 and 7-12 by focusing on the thrice-holy enthroned king. This king will judge the nations and rule from Zion (24:21-23) where he will host a feast for all people, destroying the ultimate enemy, death (25:6-8). This king will reign in beauty, and the eyes of the people will see him (Isaiah 33:17). Abernethy points out this is particularly stirring when read in the light of Isaiah 6. Isaiah sees God and is filled with dread; in Isaiah 33 seeing God is a “vision of hope” (43-4).

In the chapter 2, Abernethy examines Isaiah 40-55 and describes God as the only saving king. Much has happened between Isaiah 39 and 40; Israel has been sent back out into the wilderness and they are to prepare for God’s return. Although it is possible the wilderness is a positive image recalling Israel’s early, pure relationship with God, for Abernethy the wilderness “symbolizes Zion’s destruction” (57). God’s kingly presence will manifest itself as a shepherd king who leads his people out of the dangerous wilderness and back to the good land. Abernethy draws parallels between Isaiah 40:1-11 and 52:7-10, arguing these texts function “to orient our hopes, our desires for comfort, our longings for vindication around the prophetic declarations that God himself is promising to come as king” (65).

In his third chapter, God is “the warrior, international, and compassionate king” (Isaiah 56-66). These chapters are concerned with “eschatological judgment as a collar to salvation” (83), looking forward to a time when God will function as warrior king who will pacify the nations. In order to demonstrate this, Abernethy lays out a chiastic arrangement of 56-66 which sets Isaiah 60-62 in the center. This chapter examines the fourth level of the chiasm, the anticipation of God’s coming salvation (59:15-21) and the final expression of that salvation (63:1-6). The warrior king appears but only sees injustice (59:15a-16), therefore delaying his vindication of his people. When he finally arrives, it is a day of fury and vengeance (63:4-6). Here Abernethy draws a canonical refection to two images of Jesus in the New Testament, first initiating redemption (Luke 1:51) and rendering final judgment (Rev 14:9-11; 19:15-16).

As a conclusion to the first three chapters, Abernethy offers a short theology of kingship in Isaiah (112-17). The recurring themes in Isaiah are seeing the glory of the king, the international king enthroned in Zion; the coordination of judgment and salvation; history and eschatology. These themes are tied to the historical situation of the book (Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian eras) but by the end of the book Isaiah “directs our attention to the eschatological future” (117).

Having surveyed what Isaiah says about the kingship of God, Abernethy devotes chapter 4 to the “lead agents” of the king in each subsection of the book. First, by “lead agent” Abernethy means the character through whom God acts to accomplish salvation and judgment. Although the obvious term to use is “messiah” Abernethy prefers “lead agent” in order to avoid confusion about how Isaiah presents the agent of salvation in each unit of the book. He finds a different lead agent for each of the three units of the book. For Isaiah 1-39, the lead agent is a Davidic ruler who establishes righteousness and justice in the land. In Isaiah 40-55 the lead agent is the Servant who also brings justice to the nations by providing atonement. In Isaiah 56-66 it is the “messenger” of Isaiah 61 who declares God’s salvation at the very beginning of the eschaton.  As Abernethy concedes, most Christian evangelical readers will see all three of these figures as the Messiah, Jesus (169). However, each lead figure functions in their own historical context and are distinct characters from the perspective of the book of Isaiah. The claim of the New Testament is that Jesus takes on all three distinct roles.

Abernethy is content to allow some ambiguity in Isaiah with respect to how these lead agents function as messianic figures. I would suggest the ambiguity explains the variety of messianic expectations in the Second Temple period. If Abernethy is correct and there are at least three lead agents of the eschaton in Isaiah, Second Temple readers of Isaiah seem to have developed one aspect of the coming messiah (such as a Davidic king) and downplayed or missed the others (such as the suffering servant). Early Jewish Christianity may be unique in associating Jesus with all three of the lead agents described by Abernethy.

Finally, chapter 5 concerns “the realm and the people of God’s kingdom.” Abernethy describes Isaiah’s view of the kingdom as “bifocal” since sometimes God’s kingdom is the entire cosmos (40:28) in in other contexts the kingdom is particularized as Zion (65:17). Jerusalem and Zion are a microcosm of the universal kingdom of God (176), and Abernethy refuses to discuss how physical Jerusalem “fits into God’s plan on this side of the cross” (179). Isaiah is clear, however, the people who participate in this future kingdom will be purified and redeemed remnant who are obedient to the King and trust completely in God. The theme of trust is clear in the Ahaz and Hezekiah stories, but Abernethy shows how this theme appears in each of the sections of the boo (Isa 50:10, for example). This kingdom will also be an international community. Abernethy shows that Isaiah 2:2-4 and 66:18-24 frame the book with the prediction that in the latter times Gentiles will be part of God’s kingdom. Although the nations do participate in the eschatological kingdom in some way, I would point out the blood staining the warrior king in Isaiah 63:3 is that of Gentile nations who have opposed God and oppressed his people.

Conclusion. Abernethy contributes an overview of the whole book of Isaiah using the theme of the kingdom of God. Although there are other themes in Isaiah, kingship provides the reader with enough structure to make sense of the massive amount of material in the book of Isaiah. By describing the lead agents of God’s salvation in each unit of the book, Abernethy has provided a useful rubric for understanding how messianic expectations developed in different directions in the Second Temple period.

This is a very readable book for both scholar and layman. Abernethy is clear and structured in his presentation with occasional allusions to pop culture (Batman, the Matrix and Lord of the Rings). Although presenting an important scholarly argument about the book of Isaiah, his canonical reflections have a pastoral interest for the Christian reader. In fact, Abernethy offers two possible teaching outlines in an appendix for use in a small group Bible Study or Sunday School class.

 

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.

Book Review: Stanley E. Porter, The Apostle Paul

Porter, Stanley E. The Apostle Paul: His Life, Thought and Letters. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 487 pp. Pb; $40.   Link to Eerdmans

Stanley Porter’s new introduction to Paul is intended as an updated and reworked version of his Early Christianity and Its Sacred Literature (written with Lee Martin McDonald, Hendrickson, 2000). Porter argues for many traditional views in this book, such as Pauline authorship of all thirteen letters of Paul and the unity of the letters. He rejects pseudonymity as an explanation for the Prison and Pastoral epistles. Since the book is intended for use in the classroom, Porter presents alternative views as well. In addition, he more or less rejects the New Perspective on Paul, offering some sharp criticisms of Sanders and Dunn especially in his discussion of the Law (111-121). Porter has one or two ideas in the book which he considers “new territory” in Pauline studies, such as his belief Paul had seen and heard Jesus during his earthly ministry or that Paul himself was the major force behind collecting his letters.

porter-aposlte-paulThe first part of this book includes six chapters dealing with Paul’s life and letters. There are more issues which could be included in this section, but for the most part these are issues Porter has already written on in the past. Each chapter in this section concludes with a bibliography divided into basic and advanced categories.

In his first chapter, Porter describes “Paul the person” (including appearance, upbringing and education, relationship with Rome, occupation, etc.) Porter evaluates what is usually said about Paul’s background and concludes his associate with Gamaliel is highly likely, although he did not progress far in the Greco-Roman educational system. With respect to citizenship. Porter agrees with Bruce Rapske that it is plausible Paul was a citizen of Rome and a devout Jew at the same time.

There are two problems with this view. First, Paul never refers to his citizenship in his letters and second, Roman citizens would have been required to participate in the imperial cult. Porter points out that Roman citizenship did not require participation in Emperor Worship until the second century and Jews may have been given some level of autonomy which allowed them to avoid this practice. He includes a short section on Paul’s conversion. Although Paul’s experience is similar to a prophetic call, the term conversion is “entirely appropriate to describe what happened to Paul” (31, contra the New Perspective).

Porter covers one additional topic in this section which will be more controversial: Did Paul know Jesus? The consensus view is Paul did not meet Jesus nor hear him preach. Porter claims this is an unwarranted assumption based on 2 Corinthians 5:16. Porter points out that Jesus and Paul lived “intertwined parallel lives.” Since Paul was in Jerusalem and studying as a Pharisee under Gamaliel, it would be remarkable if he had not at least heard about Jesus. Second, Porter thinks Acts and Paul’s letters include claims to having heard Jesus teach. For example, in 1 Corinthians 9:1 Paul states “have I not seen the Lord?”

The consensus view is this prefers to the Damascus Road experience, but Porter calls this “sheer assumption” (35). Since the context concerns the other apostles (who had seen Jesus during his lifetime and after the resurrection), it is possible Paul also refers to seeing Jesus in the same way. He also points out Paul refers to “Jesus our Lord” rather than his more typical “Christ Jesus.”  Porter admits each of his points are “slender threads,” but he concludes it is at least plausible Paul heard Jesus teach (38). For the details of this argument, see Porter’s monograph When Paul Met Jesus: How an Idea Got Lost in History (Cambridge, 2016).

The final issue Porter treats in this chapter is the value of the book of Acts for understanding Paul. The traditional view that Luke was a physician who was a close friend and traveling companion of Paul after Acts 16 has been challenged. There are in fact many chronological details in the letters of Paul which are not reflected in the book of Acts (Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians, for example). He presents five common arguments against the idea the writer of Acts knew Paul and provides an answer for each, concluding that the book of Acts “can be used to reconstruct a fairly coherent chronology of Paul’s life” (44). The writer of Acts was not a disciple of Paul, but he does reinforce the picture of Paul drawn from the letters.

In Chapter 2 Porter develops a Pauline chronology using the letters and the book of Acts. For the most part Porter’s chronology of Paul’s life and ministry is more or less traditional, with the exception of his dating of Galatians for the earliest letter of Paul, prior to the conference in Acts 15. He offers a six-point outline of Paul’s career beginning with his conversion in A.D. 33 and ending with his re-imprisonment in 64-65 and execution as late as 67. He places the letters into this outline, several times if there is significant debate over the date (Galatians, for example). This chapter also includes the evidence for several of Paul’s imprisonments, including Ephesus (not mentioned in Acts) and Corinth (“this view has very little to commend it,” 67). Other than a dismissive footnote, Porter does not interact with the recent contribution by Douglas Campbell’s Framing Paul (Eerdmans 2015).

Chapter 3 discusses potential backgrounds to Paul’s thought. He divides the evidence into two sections, Greco-Roman or Jewish. Porter surveys Paul’s Greco-Roman influence beginning with his use of Greek and epistolary style as well as his contact with the larger Hellenistic world. With respect to his Jewish background, Porter discusses Paul’s interpretation of Scripture (clearly more Jewish than Greek). He includes teaching in synagogues in this section, although this method of ministry is not mentioned in the letters. As Porter points out, this may be in part a result of Paul’s short time doing synagogue ministry in each city, and the fact it often ended in disaster (92).

Porter offers a short survey of Pauline theology in Chapter 4. He divide the material into two categories. First, there are a number of fundamental beliefs Paul clearly holds but does not argue. For example, Paul believes in God, although he does not argue for his existence nor is there a sustained theological statement in the letters on what he believes about God. Porter includes Jesus as messiah as well as Jesus as divine in this category as well. A second category is “developed beliefs.” These are theological beliefs which are developed at greater length than the fundamental beliefs and are consequently the subject of more scholarly debate. For example, Porter includes justification and Paul’s view of the Law under this heading and spends significant space discussing the challenge of the New Perspective on Paul on these two important issues. There are short sections on reconciliation, sanctification, salvation, the triumph of God the gospel, the church, and Jesus’s death and resurrection. Although there are some eschatological ideas in the section on God’s triumph and the resurrection, contemporary interest in Paul’s view of the future should result in a more robust section on Paul as an apocalyptic thinker. Some of this material does appear in the section on 1 Thessalonians, although remarkably there is very little on 2 Thessalonians 2.

Chapter 5 deals with Paul as a letter writer, a topic which has become very popular in recent years. Porter therefore briefly comments on the purposes of the letters and the use of amanuenses, but the main section of the chapter is a short introduction to the form of ancient Greek letters as applied to Paul’s epistles. There are similarities, but also important differences. For example, Paul makes use of paraenesis, “concentrated groups of admonishments regarding Christian behavior” (149), although it is difficult to distinguish how these sections relate to the bod of the letters.

Chapter 6 includes two related topics concerning authorship and the Pauline canon. Porter has written on the topic of pseudonymity in other contexts and concludes rather strongly that pseudonymity was not as commonly accepted in the ancient world as is sometimes claimed, and less so among Christian literature. There are examples of “noble lies” in which a writer attempts to deceive their readers by creating a new letter in the voice of an authority such as Paul, but as Porter points out, even a noble lie is still a lie. In this section he interacts with Bart Ehrman (Forgeries and Counterforgeries, Oxford 2013), concluding that his criteria are “highly subjective and ultimately indecisive” (166). For Porter, the real problem with pseudonymity in the New Testament is the implication of deception both in terms of the author and the audience. For example, if 1 Timothy was not written by Paul to Timothy, then the whole situation of the letter is a deception. Therefore Porter finds it more plausible to accept all thirteen letters as coming from Paul.

The second part of this chapter is likely to be more controversial. Rarely does an introduction to Paul’s letters treat the formation of the Pauline canon in any detail. The standard way of explaining the Pauline collection is a slow evolution of the canon over the 150 years since Paul’s death, perhaps with the final collection occurring after a period of lapsed interest in Paul. On the other hand, there are several competing theories concerning an individual who collected the letters, such as Timothy or a “Pauline school.” For Porter, these suggestions are on the right track, but who better than Paul to select the letters to be collected and circulated in his name? Porter supports his assertion by pointing to the common literary practice of retaining a copy of a letter after it was sent. In this view, Paul retained “official” copies of all this letters, from which he selected some for inclusion in a Pauline corpus. This might account for why some letters such as the Corinthian Correspondence are missing. They have been lost during Paul’s travels, or simply not included by Paul’s own decision (although Porter does not suggest this, the “severe letter” to Corinth could have been omitted by Paul since it was no longer relevant after he was reconciled with the church). Porter has worked out an interesting scenario, although it is built largely on assumptions and silence.

The second part of the book consists of six chapters of introductory material for the Pauline letters in chronological order (Galatians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Corinthians, Romans, the Prison Epistles, and the Pastoral Epistles). Each chapter covers any unique background issues unique to the letter, then Porter summarizes the contents. For example, the north vs. south Galatia theories, the order to 1-2 Thessalonians, the unity of Romans, etc. Each chapter concludes with a basic bibliography divided into commentaries and monographs.

Conclusion. In the introduction to the book, Porter expresses his initial hope that this book would serve as an up-to-date replacement for F. F. Bruce’s Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, although by the time he finished his book it ended up different than Bruce (xi). To a large extent, Porter’s Paul the Apostle is a worthy successor to Bruce’s classic book on Paul. Although he provides a tenacious defense of many traditional views (such as authorship, continuity with Acts), Porter does not simply repeat standard arguments typically found in Pauline introductions. His presentation of alternative views makes this an ideal textbook for a seminary class on Paul’s letters. But the book is written in a clear style which will make in accessible to pastors, teachers or anyone interested in the “state of Pauline studies” today.

 

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

Book Review: J. B. Lightfoot, The Epistles of 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter: A Newly Discovered Commentary

Lightfoot, J. B. The Epistles of 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter: A Newly Discovered Commentary. Edited by Ben Witherington III and Todd D. Still. The Lightfoot Legacy Set 3; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2016. 317 pp Hb; $40.00.   Link to IVP

In the last two years IVP published the first two volumes of newly discovered commentaries by the late nineteenth century scholar J. B. Lightfoot. In the forward to that volume Ben Witherington recounted how he discovered hand-written manuscripts several long-forgotten commentaries J. B. Lightfoot in the spring of 2013. With this commentary on 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter all of manuscripts discovered by Witherington have been published.

lightfoot-corinthainsCompared to the other two volumes in this series, the commentaries on 2 Corinthians or 2 Peter are brief and fragmentary, 2 Corinthians runs about seventy pages and 1 Peter has a twenty page introduction with a mere nineteen pages of commentary with the notes breaking off in 1 Peter 3. Many of the comments on 2 Corinthians are simply textual notes with only a word or two of comment. Chapter 9, for example is about a half-page of text.

Since the commentary is less than 100 pages, the editors have included several additional essays by Lightfoot to round out the volume. As an introduction to 2 Corinthians commentary Lightfoot wrote a “Pauline Prolegomena” on the chronology and context of the letter. The essay interacts with a German text on Pauline chronology by Wieseler published in 1848, although these pages take the form of notes on Wieseler’s work.

Following the 1 Peter commentary are several appendices. The first is an essay on the mission of Titus in 2 Corinthians originally published in The Journal of Sacred and Classical Philology (1885). This essay was originally collected in Biblical Essays (1904, reprinted by Baker, 1979). The second appendix is a reprint or some lectures notes on “St. Paul’s Preparation for Ministry” (1863), also reprinted in Biblical Essays. Appendix three is a sermon preached in 1877 on 2 Corinthians 3:6 entitled “The Letter Killeth but the Spirit Giveth Life.” The sermon was preached at St Paul’s in Cambridge and collected in an 1893 volume.

The fourth appendix reprints “Lessons of History from the Cradle of Christianity.” Witherington had discovered this essay among Lightfoot’s papers, although a later edited version was published in the Durham University Journal in the 1980s. This manuscript was handwritten timed essay, eventually edited and published (and subsequently reprinted in the Durham University Journal in 1987).

Appendix five reprints “The Christian Ministry.” This 90 page essay first appear in Lightfoot’s commentary on Philippians. As Witherington comments in his note, editing this lengthy essay was the last scholarly work undertaken by B. F. Wescott, longtime mentor and friend of Lightfoot. This edition includes several pages of notes from Lightfoot not included in my copy of his Philippians commentary (Zondervan reprint, 1973).

Appendices six and seven essays evaluating the contribution of Lightfoot published in a 1992 Durham University Journal celebrating the centenary of Lightfoot’s death. First, C. K. Barrett’s considers Lightfoot as biblical commentator and James Dunn offers an essay looking back at the influence of Lightfoot, especially his commitment to historical inquiry. Initially this took the form of responding to D. F. Strauss. Lightfoot calls Strauss a “mythicizer” who dismisses the search for historical truth in the biblical records as hopeless. Lightfoot strenuously disagreed and sought to study early Christian with historical rigor, believing there is nothing to fear from the “full light of science and criticism” (cited by Dunn, 307). I find this a less-than-common attitude among conservative biblical scholars more than 100 years after Lightfoot.

Conclusion. When I reviewed the previous volumes in this series, I asked why a modern reader care about a lost commentary written by a scholar who died in 1889? That IVP Academic would be interested in reprinting the notes for commentaries never completed by a scholar who died more than a hundred years ago is a testimony of the influence Lightfoot had on scholarship. That Ben Witherington and Todd Still would devote effort to organize the volumes is a significant testimony to Lightfoot’s long shadow over contemporary biblical studies, even if that influence is not always recognized.

My main criticism of this volume is that these are not newly discovered commentaries, but brief notes which Lightfoot may have later used to write a commentary. The bulk of this book are reprinted essays by Lightfoot and two celebrating his legacy. This does not limit the value of the three volumes of this series published by IVP Academic. The series is a fitting tribute to an important scholar and will serve as worthy introduction of Lightfoot to many younger students of the Bible and early Christianity.

 

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.