Book Review: L. Michael Morales, Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption

Morales, L. Michael. Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption. ESBT 2; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. 207 pp. Pb; $22.  Link to IVP Academic

As Ben Gladd says in the introduction to the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology, this new series is dedicated to the essential broad themes of the grand story line of the Bible. Each volume spans the whole canon of Scripture and seeks to connect the theme to the person of Christ. In this new contribution to the series. In this new volume of the series, Morales surveys the historical Exodus out of Egypt (part 1) and the re-use of the Exodus in the prophetic books (part 2; primarily Isaiah). The final three chapters connect the New Exodus motif to the Gospel of John and the future resurrection. Morales previously published Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus (NSBT 37; IVP Academic 2015; reviewed here).

Morales, Exodus Old and NewIn the first chapter of the book, Morales summarizes the first eleven chapters of Genesis as a “exile before Exodus.” He explains that the first rebellion in the Garden resulted in humanity’s alienation from God. This exile from Eden sets up the theme of redemption throughout the rest of scripture.  The call of Abraham anticipates the Exodus. God called Abraham out of his own land and brought into a land God promised to give to his descendants. The rest of Genesis explains how Abraham’s descendants came to live in Egypt.

Israel’s redemption in the historical Exodus from Egypt sets up a three-fold pattern: the (1) redemption of Israel led to the (2) the nation’s consecration by covenant Mount Sinai and then (3) to the consummation of the inheritance in the land of Canaan (107). Morales highlights several important themes in the original Exodus which conform to this tree-fold pattern. First, Morales describes the plagues and crossing of the Red Sea as the destruction of the “Sea Dragon,” the ultimate enemy of God’s people. Second, the tenth plague and the blood of the Passover lamb anticipates John’s description of Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Third, Moses is the servant of the Lord and functions as an intermediary between Israel and their God. Moses frequently intercedes for Israel in both Exodus and Numbers. Even in the Pentateuch, there is an anticipation of a new Moses in the future, a role fulfilled by Jesus. Fourth, Morales focuses on the sacrificial system in order to describe atonement as the covering of sin in anticipation of what Christ will do on the cross. He argues that the sacrificial system has the same three-fold pattern found in the overall Exodus: moving from the purification by blood to consecration and ending with a fellowship meal in the Lord’s house.

The second section of the book examines the prophesied second Exodus, beginning with a brief chapter tracing the history between the Exodus and Solomon’s dedication of the Temple. This is a “third state of sacred history the same pattern of redemption, consecration and consummation (the Temple dedication). Morales argues the dedication of the Temple is a theological reversal of the Tower of Babel and undoes the nation’s exile, the scattering of God’s people after the Exodus. Since Israel fails to keep the covenant and goes once again into exile, the prophets expect a future second Exodus. This second exodus includes five elements: the nations recognizing the glory of the Lord’s name, the coming of a new David, a return of Elijah to prepare for the Lord’s advent, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and resurrection. As is often observed, the historical return from Babylon did not exhaust the prophecies of a second exodus. Only a fraction of the Jews returned to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, a temple which was a shadow of Solomon’s temple. For Morales, these five elements of the second Exodus theme in the prophets are fulfilled by Isaiah’s suffering servant. He briefly summarizes each of the four servant songs and focuses attention on the suffering servant in Isaiah 53. He argues Isaiah 56-66 concerns the servants of the servant, the disciples of the Lord who take up the servant’s role as to be a light to the Gentiles. It is these disciples will draw the nations to Zion.

All of this second Exodus language anticipates the coming of Jesus and his role as the suffering servant to die on the cross. In part three of the book, Morales relates his new Exodus themes to Jesus as the Messiah. In chapters 12-13 he focuses on the Gospel of John because the fourth gospel vividly connects the crucifixion to the Passover. John presents as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29) and God’s lamb is sacrificed at Passover (John 19:31–37). Morales argues that Jesus’s resurrection is a reversal of the expulsion out of the garden of Eden. He briefly notices that John uses Eden motifs more explicitly in Revelation 22.

In the final chapter, Morales connects New Exodus to the future resurrection. Because he has connected Jesus’s resurrection to Isaiah’s new Exodus, he can examine several passages on the future resurrection in Paul’s writings and consider them “new exodus.” However, there is far more to say about a future aspect of the New Exodus motif by including Revelation in this book. Although the meaning of the images in Revelation 8-9 are controversial, it seems absolutely clear John is drawing on Exodus language to describe the wrath of God. The call to come “out of Babylon” evokes the original Exodus from Egypt. Morales includes a brief reference to Revelation 12 in his chapter on crossing the Red Sea. What God has done in the past, he will do again in the future. Unfortunately, Morales overlooks these second Exodus themes.

A major component of second exodus material from the profits is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. For example, Isaiah 51:3 indicates the Spirit will be poured out on Zion, and the wilderness will become like in the desert will become like the garden of the Lord. Picking up on these threads from Isaiah, he argues that the gospel of John presents Jesus as the giver of the Holy Spirit. Finishing the old creation work with his death on the cross as the Passover lamb, Jesus finishes the work of new creation by delivering the Holy Spirit to his people (176). His last chapter focuses on the resurrection, and he lays out Paul’s view of the resurrection in some detail. Although Morales connects new Exodus and resurrection, I am not convinced Paul made the same typological connection.

Conclusion. Since one goal of the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology series is accessibility to beginning students and laypeople, it is not surprising Morales does not interact with the vast literature on use and re-use of the new Exodus motif in the New Testament. However, in a series which seeks to engage the whole canon of Scripture, it is odd that he does not engage Matthew (Dale Allison, Jr., The New Moses: A Matthean Typology), Mark (Rikki Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark), or Acts (David Pao, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus). These more advanced studies do not appear on the further reading page. By limiting his New Testament interaction to two chapters on John’s Gospel and a single chapter on resurrection, Morales overlooks important allusions to the historical Exodus and Isaiah’s New Exodus passages.

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.

Book Review: Mark Meynell, ed. Pages form a Preacher’s Notebook: Wisdom and Prayers from the Pen of John Stott

Meynell, Mark, ed. Pages form a Preacher’s Notebook: Wisdom and Prayers from the Pen of John Stott. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2020. 238 pp.; Pb.  $19.99  Link to Lexham Press

This new book from Lexham Press is a collection of notes, quotes and illustrations from the files of John Stott. Volunteers compiled and digitally scanned Stott’s notes, originally written on 4×6 notecards. Mark Meynell, who worked at All Souls Langham Place with Stott, selected the best of these illustrations for Pages from a Preacher’s Notebook. In the introduction to this book, Meynell suggests that the value of these notes is threefold. First, they are fascinating, insightful and occasionally provocative. Second, they reveal a great deal about Stott’s evolving working methods. And third, these notes model a deep engagement with both Scripture have a contemporary world.

Stott, Preacher's NotebookMeynell presents these notes are in four broad categories: God and Gospel, Church and Christian, World and Worldviews, and Prayers. The entries rarely take up a full page since they originally fit on an index card. Following the title of the note, the note is tagged with two or three themes. When Stott used a quotation, the editor has provided a footnote to the original source.

In the introduction, Meynell observes Stott was a magpie when it came to interesting information or cultural artifacts. Stott’s observations run from church history (Tertullian’s prayer for the government) to observations about contemporary culture (Woody Allen’s film Love and Death). He refers to diverse literary figures (Ebenezer Scrooge as an illustration of covetousness), Mark Twain’s What is Man?, and Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff.  Stott copied out C. S. Lewis’s advice on writing (starting with “turn off the radio” and ending with “don’t use a typewriter”). This originally appeared in The Letters of C. S. Lewis (1966).

His engagement with contemporary culture is clear throughout the book. For example, he uses Gerald Ford’s presidential pardon is an illustration of God’s pardon of sin. Since these notes come from a world before Google, occasionally Stott writes a short biographical note on a contemporary figure. There is a note concerning the rules of cricket. He is aware of popular films and books and even refers to The Simpsons.

Occasionally I wonder about the value of a note. For example, under the heading “addictions, at least two of the notes are dictionary definitions of popular drugs (180-81). There is a list of “Key Astronomical Discoveries” (227-28). There are some notes on the book John Robinson’s Honest to God (1963), although the book is not particularly relevant today. These notes serve to illustrate Stott’s many interests, even if they seem dated.

There are several photographs of original notes scattered throughout the book. The book concludes with a helpful index to names cited in the notes. One thing lacking is a date for each note. Perhaps this information was not available; occasionally I wondered when a particular note was written.

Pages form a Preacher’s Notebook is a fascinating book which sheds light into John Stott’s process for gathering and organizing information. The notes selected for this collection are often thought-provoking, stimulating further thought in a contemporary context.

Mark Meynell has a blog, Quaerentia: a home for seeking, curiosity and curiosities.

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

Book Review: Ben Witherington III and Jason A. Myers, Voices and Views on Paul

Witherington III, Ben and Jason A. Myers. Voices and Views on Paul: Exploring Scholarly Trends. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. 233 pp. Pb; $30.  Link to IVP Academic

As the promotional material for this new book from IVP Academic indicates, there have been several major works published on Paul and his theology since Witherington’s The Paul Quest (InterVarsity, 1998).  Both James Dunn and N. T. Wright published massive theologies of Paul. E. P. Sanders published a book on Paul and his Letters in 2015. John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift is widely regarded as a major contribution to Pauline studies. The goal of this book is to summarize the “latest developments” in Pauline studies beginning with a New Perspective on Paul.

Witherington, Voices and Views on PaulAccording to the preface, Witherington’s contribution to this book includes the chapter on N. T. Wright and the section on John Barclay and Stephen Chester; everything else was written by Myers. Both of Witherington’s contributions contain material which originally appeared on his blog.

The first chapter offers on overview on the New Perspective on Paul beginning with Krister Stendahl. This “retrospective” is a preview of the next three chapters which each deal with a major writer associated with the New Perspective, E. P. Sanders (“The Sanders Revolution”), N. T. Wright (“Climbing the Wright Mountain”) and James Dunn (“with Paul and the Boundary Markers”). Each of these chapters describes some of the influences which led to the scholar’s major contributions on Paul. Ths is followed by a fair summary of the details of the view and some critique. Occasionally this critique is quite pointed. For example, in discussing N. T. Wright’s view of the law of Christ, Witherington declares that Wright is simply wrong (p. 75). Later he offers his opinion that Stephen Chester’s view of Romans 7 “founders on the rocks of Philippians 3:6” (198).

The fifth chapter sketches the origins and current state of the apocalyptic reading of Paul. After defining apocalyptic, the chapter begins with Johannes Weiss who focused attention on the apocalyptic elements in Jesus’s teaching and Albert Schweitzer who argued Paul was a thoroughgoing apocalyptic thinker. However, Myers sees Ernst Käsemann’s challenge to Bultmann as the bedrock of the modern apocalyptic Paul view. He summarizes, “Käsemann put forth a radical vision of Paul captured and enraptured his students as well as subsequent interpreters of Paul” (150). These subsequent interpreters include J. Christiaan Beker, J. Louis Martyn, Martinus de Boer, and Beverly Gaventa. Martyn’s commentary on Galatians (AB, 1997) is perhaps the fullest statement of the apocalyptic view, although he published an article as early as 1967 which laid the foundation for his later work. Although Käsemann saw the parousia as the main apocalyptic event, Martyn focused his attention on the cross as the key example of Paul’s apocalyptic thought. For Martyn, it is the cross the divides the ages and represents God’s invasion of this word to defeat the dark forces. Following Jorge Frey, Myers finds this proposal of an invasion to be “deeply flawed and to be a seeming modern attempt to make sense of an ancient world” (160).

The final chapter covers two “Other Voices, Other Views,” John Barclay and Stephen Chester. Barclay’s Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans, 2017) studies grace in an ancient context in order to create a broad taxonomy (“perfections”). One contribution of Barclay’s study is to point out how Grace functions differently an ancient benefaction culture (we are a gift often implied some responsibility or expectation of a return gift) than it does in a modern context (which usually emphasizes a gift given with no thought of return). Although this conclusion does not appear until the final chapter, the writers suggest that Barclay’s view on grace could really change the understanding of some aspects of Paul’s thought (222).

The second half of this chapter focuses on Stephen Chester’s Reading with the Reformers: Reconciling the Old and New Perspectives (Eerdmans, 2017). Chester argues later Lutheran and Reformed traditions do not always engage with the reformers themselves and do not always do justice to their views on Paul. The New Perspective challenged some classic reformation formulations of justification by faith or imputation of sin. What Chester just is that the new perspective is challenging Lutheran and Reformed descendants of Luther and Calvin rather than the reformers themselves.

In a final chapter, Witherington and Myers ask if there is an “Appalling Amount of Paul” in New Testament scholarship today. As it turns out, there may not be enough. They offer three examples. The views covered in this book do not focus on how radical Paul was from a Jewish perspective. Certainly “Paul the Jew” is more prominent since E. P. Sanders, but this is not the central focus of most Pauline studies.  Second, the writers complain most of these studies “truncate Paul” by ignoring books like 2 Thessalonians or Colossians (they do not even mention Ephesians or the Pastorals). Third, another serious omission in most Pauline studies is an account of Paul the missionary. Part of the problem is suspicion of the historical value of the book of Acts in scholarship. Yet Paul presents himself as a preacher of the gospel in his letters. How might Paul’s role as a missionary affect his theology?

Conclusion. I have a few minor quibbles regarding the content. Rather than four chapters on the New Perspective on Paul (the retrospective and one chapter each on Sanders, Dunn, and Wright), this book could be improved by devoting at least a full chapter to the so-called “Paul within Judaism” approach, probably featuring Mark Nanos (which would provide at least one more bad pun in a chapter title). Nanos (and similar scholars) are relegated to a footnote in the concluding chapter. In the chapter on the apocalyptic Paul, they only mention Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God (Eerdmans 2009) in a footnote. Given his weighty contribution, Campbell deserved more attention. However, given the goals for this short book, decisions needed to be made and not everyone’s favorite Pauline interpreter will make the cut.

This book will make an excellent textbook for a Pauline literature course at the undergraduate or graduate level. In fact, seminaries should require this book to give a quick overview of Pauline studies over the last 30 years. The authors have clearly and concisely summarized massive quantities of Pauline theology and made it accessible to those who don’t have the time to wade through a 1700-page book on Pauline Theology.

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.

Book Review: Tremper Longman, III, The Bible and the Ballot

Longman, III, Tremper. The Bible and the Ballot: Using Scripture in Political Decisions. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2020. 310 pp. Pb; $24.99.  Link to Eerdmans

Tremper Longman is well-known for his Old Testament scholarship. In this timely book from Eerdmans, he develops a method for applying Scripture to a wide range of controversial topics in contemporary American political debate. As he acknowledges in his preface, he writes as a professional Bible scholar, not an expert in public policy. Longman does not intend to write a book that sets out specific public policy, but rather how relevant principles from the Scriptures apply to particular policy issues. As a result, this book interacts with specific biblical texts and interprets them in their literary, historical, and theological context, as expected by a biblical scholar.

Longman, The Bible and the BallotLongman observes that the Bible is not “an information book dispensing principles” (75) but rather a collection of stories, histories and other genre which communicate information, arouse emotions and stimulate the imagination to form the reader person. The book therefore concentrates on “discovering biblical principles relevant to thinking through issues of public policy” (75). In his introduction he reviews Niebhur’s classic five categories from Christ and Culture and compares them to Craig Carter’s critique of Niebuhr (Brazos, 2006). Longman concludes that there is no one best strategy or formula of Christian interaction with culture. On some issues, a “Christ above culture” approach might be preferred, for other issues a “Christ against culture” may be necessary. Longman argues that the Bible simply does not give us instructions about specific policy decisions. If the Christian is going to interact with culture, they need to know the relevant biblical principles and be able to understand situations in order to know how to apply these principles (9).

The first section of this book sets out his interpretative method, beginning with an understanding of biblical genre so that the reader interprets the text in its original, ancient context. He uses biblical law as his example, discussing several laws found in the Old Testament that apply the general ethical principles of the Ten Commandments to cultural and religious issues in the ancient world. All the laws have principles at work which go beyond the general ethical teachings of the Ten Commandments.

Since there is continuity between the Old and New Testaments, Longman advocates a Redemptive-Ethical Trajectory for developing principles to be applied to issues that go beyond the Bible. Here he follows William Webb, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals (InterVarsity, 2001). Longman concludes, “It is important to carefully consider Old Testament law and even New Testament ethical pronouncement before assuming that the church today should adopt or assume their continuing validity” (49). But he also points out that we should not assume there is an ethical trajectory from the Old to the New, nor that the New Testament is more “progressive” than the Old Testament.

After summarizing central biblical theological themes, he then turns to a series of issues which are controversial for temporary American political discussion. Some of these are standard fair for these sorts of studies (war, abortion, capital punishment). Other issues have become more important in the last few years. For example, Longman has a chapter on nationalism, patriotism, and globalization and another on religious liberty. He discusses same-sex marriage, the environment, immigration and racism in separate chapters.

Many readers will approach this kind of book with their own assumptions about each of the issues Longman has covered and judge this book based on whether his conclusions agree with those assumptions. This is an unfortunate byproduct of current American political discussion: the myth that there are only two sides to any issue, conservative or liberal. But Longman is not writing a book from one political perspective or the other. His goal is to examine the principles which ought to guide a decision on these issues. His chapters are therefore decisively weighted towards discussion of biblical text. There are usually only a few pages on “public-policy implications.”

Each chapter ends with a summary statement entitled “attitudes and dispositions.” This is important because his conclusions address Christian’s mindset before approaching a particular issue. For example, in dealing with same-sex marriage, he says, “Christians should begin by acknowledging their own brokenness in the area of sexuality and work to maintain their own sexual integrity.” He encourages readers to remain faithful to the biblical teaching on sexuality, but also love people who are in the LBGTQ+ community. Most important, the Christian community should never demonize this community because all people are God’s precious creatures created in the image of God and therefore worthy of respect (231).

Conclusion: Longman’s The Bible and the Ballot is timely since American evangelical Christianity is divided politically like never before. Unfortunately, many of the people who decide public policy are ill-prepared to do the exegetical work necessary to understand biblical principles.

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: Benjamin L. Gladd, From Adam and Israel to the Church

Gladd, Benjamin L. From Adam and Israel to the Church: A Biblical Theology of the People of God. ESBT 1; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2019. 182pp. Pb; $22.  Link to IVP Academic

In the introduction to this first volume of the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology, series editor Benjamin Gladd explains the need for a new series of books on Biblical Theology. The ESBT series is dedicated to the essential broad themes of the grand storyline of the Bible. The goal of the series is to explore the central biblical-theological themes of the Bible. The series is intentionally limited to ten volumes supporting and interlocking with one another to form a cohesive unit.

Gladd, From Adam to IsraelIn this inaugural volume of the series, Gladd presents a biblical theology of the people of God within the theological framework of covenant theology. Throughout the book he emphasizes a single covenant community from Genesis to Revelation. This is in contrast to dispensationalism, which makes a distinction between the church and ethnic Israel. For Gladd, there is one people of God throughout Scripture, beginning with Adam and Eve and continuing through the new creation.

The first two chapters of this volume examine creation and fall. Following Greg Beale, Gladd argues Eden was like a cosmic temple and God gave Adam and Eve specific roles when he created and commissioned them. God commissioned Adam and Eve to serve as kings, having dominion over creation and extending God’s rule beyond the garden. Second, God called Adam and Eve to serve as priests, caring for the garden. Third, they were commissioned as prophets, communicating God’s word to their children.

Adam and Eve failed in these roles and destroyed their commission when they rebelled against God in the fall. As kings, Adam and Eve ought to have guarded the garden and subdued the serpent; as priests Adam and Even ought to have rid the sanctuary of the defilement of the serpent;  as prophets, they ought to have meditated on God’s word and answered the serpent’s words with God’s word (p. 23-24). As a result, God exiles Adam and Eve from the garden. The rest of Scripture is the story of God restoring the image of God destroyed in the fall. Gladd contrasts the ungodly line of Cain with the godly line of Seth to show the restored image of God will continue (although he does not notice the flood destroyed both lines).

The scenario Gladd describes is compelling, but it is not clear that it is grounded in what the text actually says. I am quite attracted to Beale’s suggestion that Genesis presents the Garden of Eden as a sanctuary and there are clear connections between Eden and the Tabernacle and Temple. In fact, Adam as a priest in the cosmic garden-temple is not a problem, even if it is not explicit in Genesis 2-3. However, I am not convinced Adam and Eve functioned as kings or prophets in Eden. I know Gladd is building a typology from Adam, to Israel and ultimately to Jesus and the church, but it seems to me that he started at the end (Jesus is prophet, priest and king) and read that typology back into Genesis. This is how typology often works.

The next two chapters argue God intended Israel to be a new Adam. Like Adam, Israel was to rule as kings and to function as priests and prophets. He develops a typology between Eden and Sinai and shows the Tabernacle was intentionally designed to reflect Eden. Israel is to rule the land promised to Abraham on God’s behalf. Exodus 19:5-6 describes Israel as a kingdom of priests, created to be holy and set apart from the nations so that God could dwell in their midst. This explains why Israel was to expel the Canaanites from the land; like the serpent in Eden, they must purge all forms of spiritual uncleanliness from the new Eden of the Promised Land (p. 43). As prophets, Israel ought to have confronted the idolatry of the nations, communicating the first two of the ten commandments.

However, Israel also experienced a fall, resulting in their exile from the land. The people cannot maintain the holiness demanded by the Law and worship the gods of the nations. For Gladd, “Israel” does not refer to ethnic Israel even in the Old Testament. It is only the righteous remnant that is “real Israel.”  Gladd says, “The remnant within the nation relates to the covenant community spiritually and participates in the covenant of grace (Gen 3:15)” (p. 54, emphasis original). Gladd cites Romans 9:6 here, “not all who are descended form Israel belong to Israel.”

Yet the prophets of the Old Testament looked forward to a restoration of Israel to their former place in the “latter days” (ch. 4). The nature of this restoration is where Gladd intentionally draws a contrast with dispensationalism. Although he is not wrong, Gladd cites the success of the dispensational Left Behind series as the cause of much confusion about Israel’s future. He tracks many of the same Scripture dispensationalists use but concludes these prophecies do not refer to a future restoration of ethnic Israel. Commenting on Romans 9-11, Gladd states “the Old Testament, as far as I can tell, never talks about the restoration of the theocratic nation of Israel” (p. 128, emphasis original). It is possible to argue many in the Second Temple period expected a restoration of a Davidic king and a re-gathering of the exiles to the land. For Gladd, the restoration of Israel in prophetic texts refers to Jesus as the true king, priest and prophet. Where Adam and Israel failed in these divinely appointed roles, Jesus will succeed.

Gladd argues in the next three chapters Jesus fulfills Israel’s destiny as the king, the priest, and the prophet. The Gospels present Jesus as the king, especially the Gospel of Mark. Gladd conflates king, messiah, and the divinity of Jesus in this section. Jesus is not a conquering Davidic king but rather the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 or the cut-off anointed one of Daniel 9. Jesus rules as the firstborn of creation (Col 1:15), connecting the rule of Jesus to Adam, the firstborn of creation.

Jesus as a priest is more difficult to demonstrate from the Gospels, so Gladd touches on the Temple “cleansing” and argues Jesus’s sacrifice is better than the Old Testament as he functions as the faithful high priest. For Gladd, Jesus ushers in a new age and God’s presence is among his people, so there is no need for a physical temple. Jesus is the true temple. The temple at the time of Jesus had become a place of rampant, so Jesus fulfills Old Testament expectation that God would do well with humanity and act as a faithful priest by purging evil from the temple. This chapter is not as dependent as the book of Hebrews as expected because Gladd’s focus is on Jesus as the end times temple. As Adam and Eve’s commission was to increase the number and fill the earth, so too does Jesus comission his disciples to fill the earth by going to the nations with the Gospel (Matthew 28:18-20).

The chapter on Jesus as a prophet focuses on his conflict with the devil (overcoming the devil through God’s word) and “passing on the divine image” (1 Cor 15:42-53). 1 Corinthians 15 (or Romans 5:21-21) explicitly connects Adam and Christ; where Adam failed, Christ succeeded. Adam’s body died because of sin; Christ’s body was raised to incorruptible flesh. Just as Adam passed the image of God on to Seth, Christ will pass the image of God on to believers at the resurrection.

As representatives of Jesus Christ in the world, the Church now functions in some like Jesus. Here Gladd extends his Christological typology to ecclesiology by arguing the church functions as kings, priests and prophets. He makes a distinction between divine authority represented by Jesus as Messiah and the apostolic community, and the general authority held by pastors, teachers, elders, deacons and every believer. The church does not have the same “divine authority” as the apostolic community because it is under the authority of Scripture. The church therefore functions like kings or priests or prophets, but not exactly like Jesus as Messiah or the apostolic (messianic) circle.

Gladd briefly touches on Romans 9-11 in his chapter on the church ruling as kings. He states this complex debate is outside of the scope of this book, but it seems to me to be more important enough to merit more than a single page. After all, if Paul thought Israel would be restored, then Gladd’s understanding of the prophecy is flawed. Gladd says he is not convinced the church has replaced Israel, nor does he think dispensationalists are correct when they argue God will keep his Old Testament promises to restore the nation of Israel physically by bringing them back to the Promised Land. Instead, he argues true Israel is composed of a remnant of Christian Gentiles and a remnant of Christian Jews (p. 129).

Finally, Gladd looks to the end of the canon by arguing the Church’s function in the New Creation. He argues the Book of Revelation presents the new creation as God’s temple, a restoration of the Edenic Temple. It is therefore not no surprise that God’s people will be priests in the new temple and function as kings in the new creation. It is certainly much more difficult to see how believers will function as a prophet in the new creation, but he suggests individuals will recall the redemptive acts of God in worship.

Conclusion. Gladd’s From Adam and Israel to the Church does indeed tell the story of the unified people of God from the Garden to the New Creation. It reflects classic Covenant Theology with its focus on a single people of God while avoiding replacement theology or an over-emphasis on covenants to unify Scripture. By using the Christological typology of king, priest and prophet, Gladd is able to unify pre-fall Eden, Israel and the Church around the work of Christ.

 

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.

Book Review: Robert E. Winn, Christianity in the Roman Empire

Winn, Robert E. Christianity in the Roman Empire: Key Figures, Beliefs, and Practices of the Early Church (AD 100–300). Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Academic, 2018. x+158 pp.; Pb.  $19.95  Link to Hendrickson Academic

Most Christians want to know more about the early centuries of the church but are often put off by highly detailed, complicated studies. Robert Winn orients this book at the general reader who is interested in early Christianity rather than the academy. In fact, he intends the book to be used in a traditional Sunday school class, small group, home group, or reading group. He chose to begin with the end of the first century and end with Eusebius, approximately A. D. 100-300.

Winn, Christianity in Roman EmpireMost of the brief chapters in the book feature a particular writer in the early church in more or less chronological order (for example, Didache, Clement of Rome, Cyprian of Carthage, Irenaeus of Lyons, etc.)  Some chapters feature a theme such as Worship in A. D. 100 or Prayer and the Spiritual Life of Early Christians. Winn provides citations along with enough context for the modern reader to hear to the voices of the early Christians. of the three parts of the book begins with a short introduction and timeline of important events in the century.

Part One describes Christianity in the year 100. Winn chose this date to begin his history because by that time the original generation that knew Jesus was gone and many New Testament books were circulating, although not in a finalized canon yet. In addition, the Jewish revolt and destruction of the Temple was a generation in the past, raising questions about the relationship of Jews and Christians.

He begins with the status of Christians in the Roman world, as illustrated in Pliny’s letter To Trajan. Pliny describes Christians as leading a moral life, although he struggled to understand their commitment to Christ. This way of living is the subject of Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas, two of the earliest post-apostolic Christian documents available. Winn uses 1 Clement, a letter sent from Clement of Rome to the Church of Corinth and the letters of Ignatius of Antioch to illustrate the core elements of “True Christianity” and to describe the worship and church order early in the second century.

The second part of the book tracks the rise of Christianity in a Hostile World (A. D. 100–250). Persecution in these years was regional As Winn observes, even though persecution was regional in the Roman empire, Christians continually faced ridicule and harassment as their numbers grew. He begins this section with a chapter on one of the chief critics of Christianity in the period, Celsus. Celsus’s but biting and sarcastic attack against Christians” were popular enough to be answered by Origen of Alexandria.

Winn focuses on Justin Martyr as an example of a second century apologist. Justin argued that Christians do not hold outlandish or strange beliefs. He compares things like resurrection and ascension to Roman myths of divinity. In fact, Christian beliefs are not alien but rather superior to Roman religion. Despite the work of the apologists, the Empire did persecute Christians an occasionally but them to death. Two chapters in this unit discuss martyrdom: The Martyrdom of Polycarp (chapter 8) and the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity (chapter 9). The final chapter in the unit examines Cyprian of Carthage and his book, On the Lapsed. Writing after Decius’s persecution of the church, Cyprian was concerned about Christians who had recanted their faith to escape persecution. Could they be restored? If so, who was responsible for restoring lapsed Christians to the church?

In part three, Winn focuses on faith and practice in the third century. As Winn observes, by A.D.  200 Christians were “out of the shadows” (p. 93) and by 300 Christians were petitioning the Roman government to settle property disputes. During this period, it was important to define true Christianity from false. Since this required a careful reading of Scripture, Winn uses Melito of Sardis as an example of how early Christians used Scripture used typology to read the Old Testament (chap. 12). Irenaeus of Lyons, The Proof of the Apostolic Teaching (chap. 12) Tertullian response to Marcion (chap. 13) to define “true Christianity” in the mid-third century. Using Hippolytus and Origen as his examples,

Winn discusses prayer and the spiritual of early Christians. Hippolytus talk to Christian should pray throughout the day, even raising from the beds in the middle of the night to pray. Gathering at church early in the morning was necessary for Christian growth in the prevention of sin. Origen’s Treatise on Prayer encourages Christians to prayer actual words (rather than a spiritual disposition), using the Lord’s prayer as a model. In addition, he recommends kneeling in prayer when confessing sin. Finally, Winn uses Eusebius of Caesarea as a way to look back at early church history. Eusebius was born about 290 and is best known for this Ecclesiastical History.

Winn provides ample text from each of the early church writers he discusses. Endnotes will point the interested reader to English editions for further reading. Chapters conclude with a few discussion questions for a reading group or small group Bible study. Winn provides a short “what to read next” section and a brief bibliography.

Conclusion. Since the aim of the book is to trace “key figures, beliefs and practices” of the early Church for the layperson, some readers will notice a lack of detail expected in an introduction to church history. There are many church fathers missing and great controversies omitted. There is far less on the Christological controversies and development of the canon than expected. A fourth section on Nicaea, Augustine and Jerome and the post-Constantine church would have been welcome (perhaps a second book?)

However, Winn succeeds in his goal of introducing key figures and ideas for a discussion in a small group setting.

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

Published on August 11, 2020 on Reading Acts.

Tony Burke, ed. New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 2: More Noncanonical Scriptures

Burke, Tony, ed. New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 2: More Noncanonical Scriptures. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2020. 655 pp. Hb; $75.   Link to Eerdmans

In the introduction to the second volume of New Testament Apocrypha, Tony Burke observes the number of documents that can be called “Christian Apocrypha” is quite high. In 1992 Clavis apocryphorum Novi Testameni listed 346 texts, but there were omissions and new discoveries increase that number. This volume includes twenty-nine translations of non-canonical Christian writings with introductions and notes.

More New Testament ApocryphaPrior to the first volume in this series the standard collection of Christian noncanonical Christian literature was The New Testament Apocrypha edited by M. R. James in 1924, updated as Wilhelm Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha (Vol. 1: Gospels and Related Writings; Vol. 2: Writings Relating to the Apostles Apocalypses). This volume collected many the major noncanonical works, including some Gnostic literature. New Testament Apocrypha volume 2 continues the project of collecting texts not already found in Schneemelcher.

The introduction for each document in the collection begins with a summary of the contents followed by a list of available manuscripts, versions and editions. Most introductions have a few paragraphs on genre and structure as well as original language, date and provenance. Some introductions place the document into a historical context or comment on potential literary sources. Finally, each introduction includes translation notes and bibliography.

Part one gathers gospels and related traditions of New Testament figures. Traditionally any document concerning Jesus, or the plot of the gospels is called a “gospel.” The titles given to these new apocryphal stories resist that temptation. Thankfully, The Adoration of the Magi is not given the title, “The Gospel of the Magi.”

  • The Adoration of the Magi, Adam Carter Bremer-McCollum
  • The Rebellion of Dimas, Mark G. Bilby
  • A Homily on the Life of Jesus and His Love for the Apostles, Timothy Pettipiece
  • A Homily on the Passion and Resurrection, by Pseudo-Evodius, Dylan M. Burns
  • The Book of Bartholomew, Christian H. Bull and Alexandros Tsakos
  • The Healing of Tiberius, Zbigniew Izydorczyk
  • The Legend of the Holy Rood Tree, Stephen C. E. Hopkins
  • The Story of Joseph of Arimathea, Bradley N. Rice
  • A Homily on the Building of the First Church of the Virgin, Paul C. Dilley
  • The Life of Judas, Brandon W. Hawk and Mari Mamyan
  • The Life of Mary Magdalene, Christine Luckritz-Marquis

There are several highlights here. The Adoration of the Magi is only extant in a form of Old Turkic known as Old Uyghur, discovered in Turfan, brought to Berlin, moved to Moscow after World War II and subsequently lost. A clear copy was made of the four pages which make up this short story. The infant Jesus speaks to the magi when they offer their gifts and breaks off a chunk of stone from his cradle “like breaking off bread” and gives it to them. The stone is too heavy for them to carry, and their horse is unable to carried either. The manage to throw the stone in a well, and a great sign appeared in the sky. They realize the stone was a jewel. but they were not worthy. At this point, an angel appears, and they do not return to King Herod. The text breaks off after Herod kills the priest Zechariah (cf. Prot. James 23-24) and realizes the Magi have left.

There are two accounts of intriguing persons in the Gospels, The Life of Judas and The Life of Mary Magdalene. The Life of Judas is a medieval Latin text, although also extant in Greek and Armenian. Translations of the Latin and Armenian texts appear in this volume. Judas’s father was warned in a dream his son would eventually kill him, so when Judas was born, his father pierced the child’s legs and threw him in some bushes. He was rescued by some shepherds and raised by a woman named Scariot. As an adult Judas served king Herod, and when to a field to gather fruit for the king. Judas kills owner of the field in order to take his fruit, naturally this is Judas’s father. Herod protects him from revenge and the king counsels him to marry the dead man’s wife. So Judas killed his father and marries his mother. His mother sees the scars on his legs and realizes Judas is her son, both realize they have committed a great wickedness.

The Life of Mary Magdalene is a Byzantine text which describes Mary as a beautiful, wealthy woman prior to meeting Jesus rather than a prostitute. According to this tale, she is the woman was troubled by seven demons until Jesus cast them out. She is the woman who anointed Jesus’s feet in Luke 7:38 and the first witness to the resurrection (John 20). After the ascension, Mary travels to Rome and accuses Pilate before the Emperor. Pilate is summoned to Rome, interrogated and jailed. While in jail outside of Rome, the emperor was hunting. He shot an arrow at a deer, missed, and struck Pilate in the heart. Mary then makes an evangelistic trip to Marseille, converts the town of idolaters and establishes a church there. She died in Ephesus, but her remains were transferred by Leo VI to Constantinople to the Monastery of Holy Lazarus.

Part two collects apocryphal Acts and related traditions. Traditionally Apocryphal Acts books are stories about the apostles or the apostolic circle.

  • The Acts of Nereus and Achilleus, Richard I. Pervo
  • The Act of Peter in Azotus, Cambry G. Pardee
  • The Exhortation of Peter, J. Edward Walters
  • The Travels of Peter, J. Edward Walters
  • The History of Philip, Robert A. Kitchen
  • The Acts of Thomas and His Wonderworking Skin, Jonathan Holste and Janet E. Spittler

The Acts of Peter in Azotus describes Peter’s encounter with the devil and a group of demons in Azotus, a location mentioned in Acts 8:40 in association with Philip the Evangelist. The devil appears as an archangel, but Peter sees through the disguise. The devil makes the sign of the cross and cries of to Christ. The devil confess is who he is in each of the seven demons introduce themselves. They are the demons of deception, sexual immorality, falsehood, adultery, avarice, and slander. The seventh is not associated with the vice, Syracuse is Peter and humans in general of sin. Peter binds the devil in the demons for seven days, during which time there was no sin on earth.

The most unusual story is The Acts of Thomas and His Wonderworking Skin. The story concerns the apostle Thomas is missionary work in India and provides two stories that are not found in the longer Acts of Thomas. The Greek text was originally edited by M. R. James in 1897 from a single British library manuscript.  In1903 three additional manuscripts were discovered. The text is also extended Coptic, Arabic, Ethiopic, and church Slavonic. The translation published in this volume is from Tamilia, first appearing in 1903. Peter and Matthew accompany Thomas to India, where they speak to a man named Olbanus who is looking to buy a slave. Jesus suddenly appears and sells Thomas as a slave and he is eventually put to work building a palace for the king of India. He preaches the gospel to his master’s wife Arsinoë and she becomes a believer and destroys her idols. The devil enters the heart of husband Leucius and he tortures Thomas and flays him. Arsinoë is so upset by this she dies, but Thomas takes his skin, lays it over her dead body and she rises from the dead. His skin is involved in several other miracles before the Lord glues the skin back on Thomas’s body and he ascends to heaven to be gathered to the other apostles, Mary and Paul.

There is only one example of an epistle in part three of the volume, The Epistle of Pelagia, translated by Slavomír Čéplö. As Burke comments in the introduction to the volume, this is an epistle in name only since it was associated with the Acts of Paul when it was first published in 1904. The Epistle of Pelagia alludes to Thecla and includes the story of Paul baptizing a lion (ch. 2). This lion appears in chapter 6 when Paul is sent to the arena. After Paul and the lion pray and worship together, they are released. Pelagia is a daughter of a king who converts after hearing Paul’s preaching, divorces her husband and narrowly avoids martyrdom.

Part four follows the traditional practice of calling anything with Revelation-like visions an “apocalypse.”

  • The Dialogue of the Revealer and John, Philip Tite
  • 1 Apocryphal Apocalypse of John, Rick Brannan
  • 2 Apocryphal Apocalypse of John, Rebecca Draughon, Jeannie Sellick, and Janet E. Spittler
  • 3 Apocryphal Apocalypse of John, Chance Bonar, Tony Burke, and Slavomír Čéplö
  • The Questions of James to John, Katherine Gibbons
  • The Mysteries of John, Hugo Lundhaug and Lloyd Abercrombie
  • The Investiture of the Archangel Michael, Hugo Lundhaug
  • Appendix: John of Parallos, Homily Against Heretical Books, Christian H. Bull and Lance Jenott
  • The Investiture of the Archangel Gabriel, Lance Jenott
  • The Apocalypse of Thomas, Matthias Geigenfeind

Some of these are very brief: The Dialogue of the Revealer and John is barely two pages with extensive notes (but with twenty pages of introduction). Both second and third Apocryphal Apocalypse of John are presented to parallel columns comparing two often divergent traditions. For the third Apocryphal Apocalypse of John a third translation of the Church Slavonic version is included. In all three Apocryphal Apocalypse of John there is less apocalyptic that expected, they are mostly questions and answers on church life and practice.

In The Mysteries of John, John is taken from the Mount of Olives on a heavenly journey hosted by a cherub. John asks questions about what he sees *(the Garden of Eden, etc.) and the cherub gives an explanation. The book covers such diverse topics as agriculture and stars, to why humans have fingernails.

The Apocalypse of Thomas is known from Latin texts in three forms (long, short and abbreviated). Matthias Geigenfeind suggests the text may have developed in the context of Priscillian, an ascetic bishop from Avila (380-385). The longer form of the book includes thinly veiled predictions such as “Suddenly, near the last time a king will arise, a lover of the law. He will not rule for long. He will leave two sons. The first is named after the first letter, the second after the eighth. And the first will die before the second.” A footnote suggestions “Likely the king and his two sons are Theodosius I and the princes Arcadius and Honorius.” The text has a series of apocalyptic signs over eight days, culminating in the rapture-like deliverance of the elect: “Then that angel will be revealed who has power over the holy angels, and all the angels will go forth with him, sitting upon chariots of the clouds of my holy Father, rejoicing and flying in the air under heaven to deliver the elect who have believed in me.”

Finally, part five is entitled “Apostolic Orders,” a new category of New Testament Apocrypha. In his introduction to his new translation of The Teaching of the Apostles, Witold Witakowski suggests the work is apocryphal since it has a narrative framework based on biblical characters. The apostles gather in the upper room and lay out twenty-seven disciplinary and liturgical rules. Following these rules is a sketch of the spread of the Gospel and a list of locations the apostles and others traveled to preach. This list includes non-biblical characters like Addai who evangelized Edessa as well as biblical names such as Priscilla and Aquila, who received the writings of Luke the evangelist and followed Luke until his death. The twenty-seven canons decree Sunday worship as well as Wednesday services and prayers at the ninth hour on Friday. Presbyters are like Aaron’s priesthood and deacons are like the Levites. They declare the birth of Jesus should be celebrated on January 6, a forty day fast before the passion, and a feast for the ascension fifty days after the resurrection.

Conclusion.  As Burke observes in his introduction to the volume, Christian apocrypha provides an insight into the diversity of early Christian beliefs. Some of this literature is Christian interpretation of canonical documents, some seek to associate current practice with the earliest apostolic community. This second volume of “More Noncanonical Scriptures” is a window into how the early church developed both in practice and in theology. New Testament Apocrypha series will continue to serve scholarship for years to come. I look forward to volume 3!

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: Patrick Schreiner, The Ascension of Christ: Recovering a Neglected Doctrine

Schreiner, Patrick. The Ascension of Christ: Recovering a Neglected Doctrine. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2020. xvi+127 pp.; Pb.  $10.99  Link to Lexham Press  Link to Logos Bible Software

This brief volume in Lexham’s Snapshots Series edited by Michael Bird focuses on what Schreiner considers a neglected doctrine, the Ascension of Christ.

The first chapter orients the reader to the doctrine of the ascension. For Schreiner, “the ascension is the key plot moment, the hinge on with Christ’s work turns” (xvi). One reason the ascension is often overlooked is an emphasis on the resurrection in Christian worship. Although Schreiner does not put it this way, Protestant Christians who do not follow liturgical calendars rarely celebrate “Ascension Sunday.” Most evangelical pastors are back to their regularly scheduled sermon series immediately after Easter. He makes this observation in the book’s conclusion, stating that most low-church traditions considered the ascension a “forgettable event” (115).

Schreiner, AscensionSchreiner argues the ascension of Christ is far more important than a brief footnote to the resurrection. It is spoken of in the New Testament more often than as soon, and it is included in the first Christian sermons. He considers the ascension to be a “canonical hinge” between the ages. The ascension is when Jesus begins to reign, and only after he has ascended all the Father’s right hand does he send the Holy Spirit to his people. “On the dime of the ascension, the Bible transitions from the age of Jesus to the age of the church” (13). It is possible another author could write a book on the importance of Pentecost and use that same language. It is important to see the entire Jesus event is including the incarnation, the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Each of these events are important for understanding the Christ event.

The following three chapters use the rubric “prophet, priest and king” to present the ascension as the culmination of the mission of Jesus. Each chapter presents a brief description of a prophet, priest, and king in the Old Testament and then shows how Christ fulfills these roles in his ministry. The ascension is the culmination of Christ’s work since he now performs his role as prophet, priest, and king from heaven and through his church. Here Schreiner is following the popular view that Adam served as a prophet, priest, king in the garden. After the fall these roles pass to Israel and are ultimately fulfilled in Christ and are now the activity of the church.

Of these three roles, it is easiest to see the role of king in the completed in the ascension. The ascension is essentially an enthronement, Christ is returning to the right hand of the Father. Schreiner says, “Jesus rose to the Father, he was installed and recognized as Lord of all. The ascension and session were the triumph of the king” (89). As expected, the role of priesthood focus is almost entirely on the book of Hebrews. In the ascension, Jesus completes his ministry as a priest by presenting his blood in the heavenly tent. Regarding Jesus as prophet, Schreiner argues the Spirit empowered Jesus to proclaim the word of God and performed signs and wonders to demonstrate the authority of his preaching. In the ascension, Christ pours out the Spirit to empower his witnesses so that they will continue to speak the gospel. He downplays the importance of performing signs and wonders by saying that the ascension made Christ the head of the body, which is his hands and feet on the earth.

The final chapter seeks to position the ascension in relation to other doctrines. With respect to the Trinity, the Messiah’s ascent “finds its meaning, coherency, and significant from the triune God” (103). The ascension fulfills and completes the goals of the incarnation, including Christ’s work on the cross. He argues the ascension both confirms and reveals the truth of the cross (107).

By way of critique, I find the lack of Philippians 2:5-11 in this treatment of the ascension problematic. This important early theological statement concerning the incarnation, humiliation and exaltation of Christ is only mentioned in passing late in the book. It is not difficult to read “God has highly exalted him” as a reference to the ascension. In addition, the ascension is only narrated in Acts 1. Schreiner is correct that the ascension is an enthronement of Christ as king, but this point could be made more forcefully by seeing the ascension in Acts 1 in the light of imperial language at the announcement of this birth in Luke 2:8–14. Jesus is clearly described as the Lord, the Messiah at the beginning of both volumes of Luke-Acts. The birth narrative represents the incarnation; the ascension is the exaltation of the incarnate Lord.

The goal of the Snapshots series is to engage “significant issues in contemporary biblical scholarship” and make them “accessible to busy students of the word and applicable in the life of the church.” Schreiner presents the essential ideas of the ascension of Jesus in a clear and cogent manner, one that focuses on both the theological importance of the ascension and the practical application of the ascension in the church’s life today.

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

Book Notice: Max J. Lee, Moral Transformation in Greco-Roman Philosophy of Mind

I recently received a review copy of Max J. Lee, Moral Transformation in Greco-Roman Philosophy of Mind: Mapping the Moral Milieu of the Apostle Paul and his Diaspora Jewish Contemporaries (WUNT/2 515; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2020. xxxv+658 pp. Pb; €139,00; Link to Mohr Siebeck). Since this is a lengthy book, I thought I would do a book notice based on first impressions now, with a lengthy review when I am able to finish the book.

Max Lee, Moral TransformationLee’s goal is “to fill some important gaps in the cultural encyclopedia of knowledge which Paul and his Greco-Roman audience assumed each other knew but we modern need to reconstruct” (p. 567). For the most part, this encyclopedia of knowledge on the philosophy of mind is unfamiliar to the New Testament scholar.

Since understanding Paul’s thought in a Jewish context dominates intertextual studies, so Lee focuses on the Greco Roman environment. He therefore proposes to study models of moral transformation in Middle Platonism (part 1), Stoicism (part 2). A future volume will address Epicureanism and Diaspora Judaism. The justification for using these examples is the preserved the orthodoxy of their founders with some significant innovations and were influential in the first century. Certainly, Cynics and Neo-Pythagoreans were active in the first century, but since neither were interested in controlling passions, Lee sets them aside in this book.

What is philosophy of the mind? Ancient philosophy of the mind is the study of the soul and the ethical implications of what the soul is and how it functions. This differs from modern philosophy of the mind which is interested in how the mind and the body relate. Ancient philosophy of the mind asks whether passions can be controlled. If so, what forces impede moral transformation? Is character pre-determined at birth? Or is character developed over time through training and education?

What is moral transformation? In the context of first century C.E. Greco-Roman philosophy, ethical systems were interested in transforming the “common barbarian sick with vice into a leading citizen of the Roman empire, capable of virtue” (p. 5).  Lee will focus on the language of power in each philosophical school in order to understand how passions act as forces which must be mastered. Moral transformation is there for control of the passions. What are the sources for controlling the passions? This may come through education, training, or asceticism. What is the relationship of theology and ethics? Do the gods enable moral transformation? If so, how central is this divine aid?

All three philosophical systems agree the human mind or reason is the main power source for self-mastery. But only when the human mind has been properly trained by philosophy (p. 15). Although it is not the topic this book, Lee suggests Diaspora Judaism shares much in common with Greco-Roman philosophy,  although it places much more emphasis on the role of the divine. Self-control is not merely a human action; God actively intervenes in the transformation of the soul. Late in the book Lee suggests Diaspora Judaism falls somewhere between Middle Platonism and Middle Stoicism (about where he places Epicureanism, p. 522). Diaspora Judaism has a wider range than the other philosophical schools; we must await the next volume for the details.

The first two chapters of the book introduce methodology and the components of moral transformation. With this background in mind, Lee introduces “the Body-Beating Platonist” (part 2) and the “Superhumans Stoic” (part 3). Part three includes two chapters on neo-Stoics, a chapter on the Stoic self and a chapter on the Stoic god. The final section is a retrospect of the argument of the book and a prospect for further study.

The book includes with two appendices which are absolutely critical for the philosophy specialist to read before moving into the body of the monograph. The first appendix surveys the main sources for Middle Platonism; the second the main sources for Early, Middle and Late Stoicism. Since most of this literature is not well-known to New Testament scholars, these two appendices will help navigate the massive data contained in this book.

For Lee, the main value of this study is the demonstration of Paul’s method of engaging the pluralism of his day. However, this theological payoff is only hinted in the book. Setting aside his discussion of Enberg-Pedersen’s Paul and the Stoics (pp. 25-27), there are only fourteen references in Paul’s letters in the index (there are twenty-seven to Philippians on those pages alone). This is not a criticism; the book is an in-depth study of Greco-Roman philosophical thinking on moral transformation rather than on Paul’s use (or non-use) of this material.

Paul established a precedence for patristic figures in the second century as the apologists began to engage the philosophical world with the claims of the Gospel.  Paul’s strategy has great potential for how the church in our day can engage a complex pluralistic world with diverse ideas which challenge the gospel (p. 529). This “encyclopedia of knowledge” sets the stage for examining Paul’s appropriation of the language of philosophical discourse to exhort this Gentile churches.

I look forward to further work in this important monograph. Be sure to request your university or seminary library obtain a copy!

Max Lee blogs at Paul ReDux and is active on twitter as @ProfMaxLee.  Nijay Gupta interviewed Lee about the release of this book.

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

Book Review: Benjamin L. Merkle, Discontinuity to Continuity: A Survey of Dispensational and Covenantal Theologies

Merkle, Benjamin L. Discontinuity to Continuity: A Survey of Dispensational and Covenantal Theologies. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2020. x+236 pp.; Pb.  $25.99  Link to Lexham Press

In 1980 Daniel P. Fuller published Gospel and Law: Contrast or Continuum? The Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology (Eerdmans), which was in part based on his 1957 ThD dissertation on the hermeneutics of dispensationalism. The book was controversial for several reasons, but it began a discussion of whether there is a unity between the Old and New Testaments. Does God have a unified plan and a single people of God? Is that plan better described in terms of a single covenant, or a series of covenants? Fuller contrasted two popular systems of thought, dispensationalism and covenant theology, to answer these questions. He argued for more unity than discontinuity in God’s plan; dispensationalism did not fare well in the book, but covenant theology was not quite right either, in Fuller’s view.

Merkle, Discontinuity to ContinuityMuch has happened in the world of biblical theology in the last fifty years later. Both dispensationalism and covenant theology been in dialogue and have both developed and matured. Biblical theology has blossomed and there are dozens of studies which argue for a unified story of redemption from Genesis to Revelation. Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen’s The Drama of Scripture (Baker Academic, Second Edition 2014) is a popular presentation of the overarching story of Scripture, modifying N. T. Wright’s metaphor of a multi-act play. It is neither covenant theology nor dispensationalism, but both resonate with the plan of God revealed in a series of stages (covenants, dispensations).

In this new book on the hermeneutics of dispensationalism and covenant theology, Benjamin Merkle’s Discontinuity to Continuity cannot simply contrast the two systems. It would be wrong to cite the Scofield Reference Bible as the last word on dispensationalism; the book is now over 100 years old! It would be equally dishonest to cite Caspar Olevian or Johannes Cocceius as examples of current thinking in covenant theology. Merkle divides dispensationalism into three sections, classic, revised and progressive, representing the continuing refinement of the theological system. Covenant theology is also divided into three sections, although the three flavors of Covenant theology are less chronological.

After an introduction and overview of the theological systems of discontinuity and continuity, the next six chapters of the book move from discontinuity (Classic Dispensationalism) to continuity (Christian Reconstruction). Each chapter begins with a chart entitled “Taxonomy of Theological Systems,” with three dispensational variations on the left and three covenant variants on the right. It is perhaps instructive that there is an unlabeled spot for a middle position. Is this where progressive dispensationalism and covenantalism will meet in the future? Another unintended consequence of this arrangement the left side represents a pretribulational rapture and premillennialism, the central views move from historic premillennialism and amillennialism, to the right side represents postmillennialism.

In his three chapters on Dispensationalism, Merkle tracks the development of the system from the classic dispensationalism of the Scofield Reference Bible to the revisions of the SRB made by the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary in the 1960s (Revised Dispensationalism). Another important text for this period is Charles Ryrie’s Dispensationalism Today (Moody, 1965; Moody dropped “today” in a second edition, 2007). For many dispensationalists, this is still the standard introduction. Beginning in the 1980s, dispensationalists used the national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society to continue to refine dispensationalism, resulting in several books and essay collections using the term “Progressive Dispensationalism.” This new era in dispensational thinking was in dialogue with covenant theology and sought to bring dispensationalism into the mainstream of biblical theology.

Merkle treats three variations of covenant theology in three chapters. Because it is closest to Progressive Dispensationalist, Merkle treats Progressive Covenantalism before turning to Covenant theology proper. Progressive Covenantalism is recent and is represented by Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant (Second Edition): A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Crossway, 2016) and Stephen J. Wellum and Brent E. Parker, Progressive Covenantalism: Charting a Course between Dispensational and Covenantal Theologies (B&H 2016).

Rather than using historic examples of Covenant Theology, Merkle uses Meredith Kline, O. Palmer Robertson, and Michael Horton, Introducing Covenant Theology (Baker 2006). Merkle uses Christian Reconstruction as representing the most continuity between the testaments. Representing by Rousas Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen and Gary North. Although this position is associated with Dominion theology, Merkle limits his summary and critique to only the issue of continuity.

One possible omission in Merkle’s taxonomy is Gerald McDermott. He edited a collection of essays, The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land (InterVarsity Press, 2016) and published a popular presentation of his ideas as Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land (Brazos, 2017). McDermott rejects replacement theology and argues for a future fulfillment of promises to Israel without any form dispensationalism. I am not sure his views fit well into progressive dispensationalism or  covenantalism.

For each of the theological systems, Merkle gives a brief historical sketch and orientation to the chief representatives of the position. He then discusses the basic hermeneutic of each position. First, Merkle asks if the system has a literal or symbolic hermeneutic. Each position claims to use a grammatical-historical method and none would claim allegorizing the text is a legitimate approach. The key hermeneutical issue is the proper role of typology and how the Old Testament restoration processes are fulfilled. Merkle observes that dispensationalists dismiss (or minimize) typology while convent theology uses typology to explain how the Old Testament prophecy can be fulfilled in the church.

Under the heading of the relationship between the covenants, Merkle gives a short synopsis of how the position understands the covenants (or dispensations). For dispensationalism, this is the classic “seven dispensations,” for covenant theology this is the six biblical covenant (Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and New Covenant). Next, Merkle examines whether the system sees the covenants as conditional or unconditional. He asked how the Old Testament saints were saved. Finally, he describes the approach of each system with respect to the application of the law in the present era. On one side, classic dispensationalism argues for no application, and Reconstructionism argues for the fullest application of the Law. Classic covenant theology uses a three-tiered view of the Law (moral, civil, and ceremonial), focusing primarily on the moral law as the continuity between Israel and the church. In practice, neither is completely consistent since classic dispensationalists find principles in the Law that can be applied today (especially for particular sins) and Reconstructionist do not advocate burning witches or stoning rebellious sons.

Under the relationship between Israel and the church, Merkle examines each position with respect to whether the church replaces, fulfills Israel, or is distinct from Israel. On one side classic dispensationalism makes a sharp distinction between the church and Israel and look for a future fulfilment of Old Testament restoration prophecies, covenant theology finds a typological fulfilment of Israel in the church, or in the more extreme form, the church is new Israel. This leads to a brief sketch at how each position deals with two key passages, Romans 11:26 (“all Israel will be saved”) and Galatians 6:16 (“the Israel of God”).  For more on Merkle’s view of Romans 11:26, see his contribution in Compton and Naselli, Three Views on Israel and the Church (Kregel 2019).

With respect to the kingdom of God, he examines how the position understands the kingdom of God. For classic dispensationalists, the kingdom is entirely in the future, for most of covenant theology the kingdom is typologically fulfilled in the Church, although Reconstructionism is postmillennial, so the kingdom is being built by the church. For the progressive forms in the middle of Merkle’s taxonomy, the kingdom is in some ways already present, but not yet fully present. This leads to a discussion of Jesus’s ministry. To what extent did Jesus “bring in the kingdom”? If the kingdom is still in some respect still future, how is the kingdom to be consummated? As Merkle observes, the already/not yet understanding has influenced progressive dispensationalists as well as most forms of covenant theology. George Ladd’s New Testament Theology has influenced many of the scholars in the middle of Merkle’s taxonomy.

Each chapter ends with a few pages of assessment. He points out the strengths of each system along with a few critiques. Merkle is fair in both his summary and critique of each of the systems. There are no straw-man arguments in the book. Merkle does not cite fringe representatives of positions. It would be easy to cite Darby or Bullinger as representatives of dispensationalism, or cherry pick some of the stranger ideas of Reconstructionism. He has chosen legitimate representatives of each position and presents their ideas as fairly as possible.

The last chapter is a helpful summary of the six theological systems covered in the book. Some readers may want to start with this chapter before reading the more detailed descriptions in chapters 2-7.

Something Merkle does not address in this book is the in-family animosity between the three types of dispensationalism and the three types of covenant theology. Any system self-identifying as “progressive” is asking for trouble from the classic form of the theology. There are many classic dispensationalists who look at recent developments as compromises and defections from “real dispensationalism.” Any progressive form of covenant theology (especially one that leans toward dispensationalism) will raise suspicions of straying too far from assured reformation truth. But as this book demonstrates, theological systems ought to continue to grow and develop.

Conclusion. Benjamin Merkle’s Discontinuity to Continuity is an excellent primer on the various forms of dispensationalism and covenant theology. The book would serve as a textbook for a university or seminary class on hermeneutics, but Merkle writes for anyone reader interest in how the present church relates to Israel and the Old Testament.

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