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Johnson, John, under open heavenLast week I celebrated the beginning of the new school year with a book giveaway: John E. Johnson, Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel (Kregel, 2017). This is a book which reflects good scholarship, but is written for a popular audience and would make a great addition to a pastor’s library. I reviewed this book when it was published, where I commented:

The thirteen chapters of the book read like sermons, with introductory illustrations drawn from pop culture or personal experience, and chapter sections with alliterative headings. He even cites Bob Dylan, which is always a plus. Since the book is written on a conversational level, it would work well in a small group environment or as personal devotional reading. Johnson has included a few questions at the end of each chapter to prompt discussion.

There were only twelve entries this time, so I sorted them at random and picked a number at random.org. The winner is:

Steve Williams

Steve’s “favourite pericope is John 9:23 to 9:38.” The spelling of “favorite” makes me think I will be shipping this book some distance, so get in touch with me soon at plong42@gmail.com and I will drop in the in the mail as soon as I can. Thanks to everyone for participating.

This is an exceptionally good semester for me, should I do one more giveaway?

Johnson, John, under open heavenOnce again, to celebrate the end of the summer and beginning of the new academic year, I am giving away a few books. In this case, it is another book I purchase and then discovered I already had it on the shelf. This week I have an extra copy of John E. Johnson, Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel (Kregel, 2017). This is a book which reflects good scholarship, but is written for a popular audience and would make a great addition to a pastor’s library. I reviewed this book when it was published, where I commented:

The thirteen chapters of the book read like sermons, with introductory illustrations drawn from pop culture or personal experience, and chapter sections with alliterative headings. He even cites Bob Dylan, which is always a plus. Since the book is written on a conversational level, it would work well in a small group environment or as personal devotional reading. Johnson has included a few questions at the end of each chapter to prompt discussion.

To have a chance at winning these books, leave a comment with your name and favorite chapter / pericope in John’s Gospel so I can contact you if you win. I will randomize the names from the comments and select one winner at random.

I will announce the winner picked at random on September 7, 2018 (one week from now). Good Luck!

Bauckham, Gospel of JohnToday is the day I pick a winner for The Gospel of John and Christian Theology, edited by Richard Bauckham and Carl Mosser (Eerdmans, 2008). There were 51 comments (after I deleted my comments and some duplicates). This was one of the highest number of entries I have seen for a book giveaway, and several of the usual suspects did not enter.

I randomized the names then pasted them into a spreadsheet, generated a random number at random.org. And the winner is…..

Kevin Boyle

Congrats to Kevin! Please contact me via email (plong42 at gmail .com) with your mailing address and I will drop the book in the mail ASAP. Thanks to everyone who commented, look for the next “Back to School” book giveaway later this afternoon.

 

 

Goldingay, John. The First Testament: A New Translation. Downers Grove Ill..: IVP Academic, 2018. 262 pp. Pb; $24.00.    Link to IVP Academic

In Goldingay’s recent Reading Jesus’s Bible (Eerdmans 2017) he argued Jesus and the writers of the New Testament not only read the First Testament, but use it as the bedrock for their theology and practice. In two other recent publications from IVP Academic, Do We Need the New Testament? (2015) and A Reader’s Guide to The Bible (2017) Goldingay argued the First Testament is foundational for a proper understanding the New Testament. Although he said few Christians would actually question the need for the First Testament in Do We Need the New Testament?, recent comments from Andy Stanley on “un-hitching” Christianity from the Old Testament reflect the struggle of the modern Christian reader to see the relevance of the first two thirds of their Bible. Or worse, they are embarrassed about much of the content in the Old Testament, preferring the loving God of the New. John Piper responded to Andy Stanley (as did virtually every blogger under the sun), forcing Stanley to clarify his views and un-hitch himself from his own comments.

Goldingay, First TestamentIn order to further his goal of bringing the First Testament alive for the church today, Goldingay has produced a new translation of the Hebrew Bible. The title of the translation reflects a modern allergy to the phrase “Old Testament” since the title implies antiquated or out-of-date. It is not the “we do not need it anymore testament,” but the first three-quarters of the canon of Scripture. As I have often said to my students we need a thorough knowledge of the literature and theology of the Hebrew Bible in order to fully understand the New Testament.

This translation had its origins in Goldingay’s Old Testament for Everyone series published by Westminster John Knox. The translation done for those popular commentaries was “substantially revised.” In the preface to the volume he lists a series of principles for the translation, beginning with his desire to stick as closely to the original Hebrew and Aramaic as possible using everyday English as much as possible. For example, he uses contractions and other colloquial expressions, but this is not a paraphrase. For example, most traditional Bible translate the euphemism for sex as “he knew his wife.” In Genesis 4:1, the man “slept with his wife” and in Isaiah 8:3 it is “I had sex with my wife.” Since the goal is a translation which reflects the underlying Hebrew, occasionally there are rough or jerky sentence; but that is the nature of the Hebrew Bible. In addition, he sets poetry out to look like poetry, a common practice in modern Bible translations. The goal is accurate translation while preserving the ancient Hebrew flavor of the First Testament.

For the name of God, Goldingay chose to use Yahweh rather than the common circumlocution Lord. Goldingay transliterates most names so they appear more akin to their Hebrew equivalents. Most of these will be apparent to readers, Mosheh for Moses, Yehoshua for Joshua, etc. For others, the first occurrence has the traditional name in brackets: Havvah for Eve, Qayin for Cain, or Ha’ay for Ai in Joshua 8. Seeing names like Iyyob (Job) and Hisqiyyahu (Hezekiah) are quite shocking, but reflect the actual pronunciation of these names which have been blended through translations of the Hebrew into Greek, Latin and English. Fortunately he uses the traditional names for the book titles. This practice moves away from traditional spellings but also traditional (easier) pronunciations. This may present some difficulty for some readers, but it is important for Goldingay’s goal of allowing the reader to hear the Hebrew sounds in the Hebrew Bible.

Although this is not a study Bible, Goldingay includes a short introduction to the history of the First Testament as well as for each book. He is not particularly concerned with traditional introductory issues in these single-page prefaces. Instead his focus on the main themes of the book and how the book fits into the overarching canon of Scripture.

Like most modern Bibles, Goldingay has added a short title to sections. These are often mini-interpretations, such as “How to stand tall” (Psalm 52) or “How to weave a sanctuary (Exodus 26). Exodus 1:1-19 is labeled “On how not to render to Caesar,” an appropriate title with a New Testament allusion. Others are tongue-in-cheek, such as Esther 5:6-6:4, “The girl who knows how to work her man” or Ezekiel 37:1-14, “Dem bons, dem bones, dem dry bones.” Some may not be helpful for someone who does not know the story. For example, Ruth 4:1-10 is entitled “how not to get overextended in property ownership.” Although that is what happens in the section for Boaz’s rival, someone reading just the heading might be led to believe this is some legislation on taxation.

As observed above, Goldingay uses traditional names for the books of the First Testament. He also chose to use the traditional order of the books. This order is based on the Septuagint and reflects that Greek translation rather than the order of the First Testament itself. Perhaps it would be too jarring to see Ruth, Esther or Daniel moved out of their traditional place in the canon. On the other hand, this translation is intended for Christian readers so the order of the Christian canon is understandable.

Conclusion. Some will be as skeptical of this new translation as they were when N. T. Wright released his The Kingdom New Testament or David Hart Bentley’s recent translation which highlighted the “fragmentary formulations” of the New Testament “without augmentation or correction.” Others will receive this new translation for what it is, one scholar’s attempt to produce a readable translation which is faithful to the spirit of the First Testament. As Goldingay says in the preface to The First Testament, there is no such thing as a “best translation of the Old Testament.” Goldingay’s translation is an example of a faithful translation which comes from a scholar with a deep passion to see Christians read the First Testament in a form as close to the original Hebrew as possible.

 

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.

Bauckham, Gospel of JohnSummer is over and it is time to get back into the swing of a new semester.Actually, I just finished teaching an Early Fall OT Survey course for freshmen, so I have been swinging things for a while. But I still want to celebrate the beginning of a new school year with the traditional Reading Acts book giveaway. As regular readers know, I occasionally purchase a book and when I put it on the shelf I discover I already owned the book. Although this is embarrassing (and possibly a sign of old age), it is good news for readers of this blog since I usually set the book aside for a giveaway.

First up this year is a volume of essays on The Gospel of John and Christian Theology edited by Richard Bauckham and Carl Mosser (Eerdmans, 2008). According to the Eerdmans website, the book is now out of print, although print on demand copies are available. The essays in the collection were first presented at the first St. Andrews University Conference on Scripture and Theology in 2003. This explains the diversity of essays in the book from biblical studies to theology, including “big names” such as Rowan Williams, Miroslav Volf and Jürgen Moltmann.

Here is the table of contents:

  • Johannine Dualism and Contemporary Pluralism, Stephen C. Barton
  • Johannine Dualism and Contemporary Pluralism Miroslav Volf
  • Christianizing Divine Aseity: Irenaeus Reads John D. Jeffery Bingham
  • Anglican Approaches to St. John’s Gospel, Rowan Williams
  • Glory or Persecution: The God of the Gospel of John in the History of Interpretation, Tord Larsson
  • The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel; From What Perspective Should It Be Assessed?, C. Stephen Evans
  • The Fourth Gospel as the Testimony of the Beloved Disciple, Richard Bauckham
  • Bridging the Gap: How Might the Fourth Gospel Help Us Cope with the Legacy of Christianity’s Exclusive Claim over Against Judaism?, Stephen Motyer
  • Anti—Judaism, the Jews, and the Worlds of the Fourth Gospel Judith Lieu
  • “The Jews Who Had Believed in Him” (John 8:31) and the Motif of Apostasy in the Gospel of John, Terry Griffith
  • “The Father of Lies,” “the Mother of Lies,” and the Death of Jesus (John, 12:20-33), Sigve K. Tonstad
  • The Lazarus Story: A Literary Perspective, Andrew T. Lincoln
  • The Raising of Lazarus in John 11: A Theological Reading, Marianne Meye Thompson
  • The Lazarus Narrative, Theological History, and Historical Probability, Alan J. Torrance
  • The Prologue of the Gospel of John as the Gateway to Christological Truth, Martin Hengel
  • The Testimony of Works in the Christology of John’s Gospel, Murray Rae
  • On Guessing Points and Naming Stars: Epistemological Origins of John’s Christological Tensions, Paul N. Anderson
  • Narrative Docetism: Christology and Storytelling in the Gospel of John, Kasper Bro Larsen
  • “The Truth Will Set You Free”: Salvation as Revelation, Anastasia Scrutton
  • God in the World—the World in God: Perichoresis in Trinity and Eschatology, Jürgen Moltmann

To have a chance at winning this book, leave a comment with your name so I can contact you if you win. I will randomize the names from the comments and select one winner at random.  There are no geographical limits, I will ship this book to the winner where ever they live.

I will announce the winner (and the next giveaway) on Friday morning, August 31, 2018.

McKnight, Scot. Colossians. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. lx+442 pp.; Hb.; $55.00. Link to Eerdmans   

McKnight begins this major commentary on Colossians with the observation that the letter is Paul’s “apostolic vision that sought to redesign the Roman Empire” (1). That “redesign” is based on Paul’s gospel of Jesus Christ and Paul’s gospel, McKnight says, can be reduced to the term “mystery,” Paul’s “term for in this letter for God’s plan to reconcile Gentiles with Jews, slaves with free, and all manner of social identities into one large family called the church” (4). According to the letter to the Colossians, this new family challenges the dark powers of the present age, whether they are Greco-Roman gods and emperors or the nationalism and imperialism of the modern age.

Scot McKnight, Colossians, CommentaryWith respect to the authorship and date of Colossians, McKnight begins with a critique of the method usually used in Pauline authorship discussions. He questions the validity of comparing Colossians to the other letters which are known to be authentically from Paul. The problem, says McKnight, is we really do not have proof Galatians (for example) was written by Paul. In fact, all ancient letters were mediated through a secretary, or perhaps even a series of scribes. Paul’s letters were often written along with others who worked with him, Timothy for example.

Although there are differences in vocabulary and style, McKnight lists several clear similarities between Colossians and the other so-called authentic letters: the authority of Paul, Christology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. In each case there are some unique elements and distinctive nuances, but each theological area does not contrast with the “pure Paul” of Romans and Galatians (16). The doctrine of justification and an emphasis on the Holy Spirit are missing from Colossians, but this is not part of the themes of the letter. He concludes his discussion of authorship with the curmudgeonly conclusion that Paul did not write any of his letters, but Paul is behind all his letters (18).

McKnight favors the view Paul was in Ephesus when he wrote Colossians (and Philemon) in the mid-50s, perhaps as late as 57. The traditional view Paul wrote from Rome sometime in the early 60s is problematic because of the travel notes in Colossians and Philemon. Of course the main weakness of an Ephesian origin for the letter is there is no explicit reference to an Ephesian imprisonment. Yet an origin in Ephesus allows the interpreter to hear echoes of the culture of Ephesus in the letter, especially the presences of exorcists and magicians from Acts 19:13-20 and (I would add), the “powers” from the letter to the Ephesians (39).

The other introductory issue unique to Colossians is the nature of the opponents against whom Paul writes. McKnight calls them “the Halakic Mystics of Colossae.” The matter is complicated by the fact we know very little about Colossae compared to other Greco-Roman cities such as Ephesus. McKnight interacts at length with Jerry Sumney’s Identifying Paul’s Opponents (Bloomsbury, 2015) and agrees with Sumney’s call for caution in the case of the opponents at Colossae, but he would allow for more evidence to be drawn from the ethical section of the book. McKnight agrees with Ian Smith’s Heavenly Perspective: A Study of the Apostle Paul’s Response to a Jewish Mystical Movement at Colossae (T&T Clark, 2006) and “riffs” on Smith’s major points (29). The opponents were operating with a Jewish set of ideas allied with the kind of dualism found both in Judaism and Hellenism. This dualism led to a “world-denying asceticism.” Although they tended to “entangle themselves” with the elemental powers of this world, it is doubtful they actually worship angels.

The final section of the introduction to the commentary is a sketch of Paul’s theology in the letter. In reviewing recent scholarly discussion of Paul’s theology, McKnight concludes it is necessary to construct a Pauline theology which “transcends the soteriological schemes of Western theology” (51). He has three recent theological contributions in mind when he makes this statement. First, he acknowledges the contributions of James Dunn’s Pauline Theology (Eerdmans, 1998) and N. T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Fortress, 2013), but also sees recent contributions by Louis Martyn and Douglas Campbell and the “apocalyptic Paul” to be on the right track and renders the old perspective versus the new perspective passé (46).

The second recent contribution to Pauline studies which bears on Pauline theology in Colossians in John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans, 2015). Barclay’s rich description of Paul’s understanding of grace in the literature of the Second Temple Judaism ought to be required reading before any scholar attempts to sketch out Paul’s theology (or write a commentary on a Pauline letter). Third, McKnight considers recent series of monographs by of Michael Gorman “some of the finest articulations of a Pauline theology” (49). Gorman is sometimes cited as an example of participationist theology and balances all the emphases of modern Pauline studies (50). He does suggest a modification to Gorman’s term cruciformity, suggestion missional-Christoformity (a phrase appearing often in the commentary itself.

In his own fourteen page sketch of Pauline theology, McKnight attempts to “slightly reorient Dunn and Wright and Gorman” building on where “Wright ends his Paul and the Faithfulness of God and where Gorman lands: reconciliation and mission” (51). Perhaps it is time for McKnight to turn his attention to a fully developed Pauline theology textbook.

The body of the commentary proceeds through the outline of Colossians in smaller units. Each section begins a short orientation and translation of the text with numerous notes comparing the NIV and CEB. The commentary itself moves from phrase to phrase with technical details and Greek grammatical comments relegated to copious footnotes. When Greek words appear in the main body of the commentary they are transliterated so readings without Greek training will be able to follow the argument. Most interaction with scholarship primarily appears in the footnotes, making for a remarkably readable commentary. On occasion he must deal with technical details or theological problems (such as the meaning of baptism in 2:11). In these cases he provides material in the footnotes to point interested readers to more detailed article sand monographs.

Conclusion. McKnight’s prose is engaging and there are occasionally rhetorical flourishes intended to amuse the reader. Rarely does a technical commentary entertain as well as educate. But McKnight also demonstrates his pastoral heart, never straying from Paul’s pastoral purposes in the letter. This commentary will be useful for scholars, pastors, teachers, and interested laypersons who want to dig deep into the text of Colossians.

Usually commentaries on Colossians also include a section on Philemon. Scot McKnight’s commentary on Philemon in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series was originally intended to be included with this forthcoming Colossians commentary, Eerdmans decided to publish Philemon separately (see my review of his Philemon commentary here). McKnight also contributed a commentary on James in this series (Eerdmans, 2011).

 

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

Published on August 15, 2018 on Reading Acts.

Chou, Abner. The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers: Learning to Interpret Scripture from the Prophets and Apostles. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 2018. 251 pp. Pb. $23.99   Link to Kregel Academic

This new monograph from Aber Chou has its origins in an undergraduate class in hermeneutics taught by William Verner at The Master’s University where he is now associate professor of Bible. Chou’s task in this study is to describe what he calls the prophetic hermeneutic (chapters 3-4) and demonstrate the apostolic hermeneutic evidenced in the New Testament was essentially the same (chapters 5-6). With this biblical foundation, Chou then develops a Christian hermeneutical strategy (chapter 7) which he argues is faithful to how the Old Testament prophets read earlier Scripture and how the New Testament apostles read the prophets.

Abner Chou, Hermeneutics, IntertextualityChou claims “Old Testament intertextuality demonstrates the prophets were exegetes and theologians” (93), they were “scholars of Scripture (47). In the New Testament the “apostles used the Old Testament contextually” (121) and were “remarkably consistent with each other in how they interpret and apply the Scriptures” (196). For Chou, the “Christian hermeneutic follows the prophets and apostles, and is thereby a hermeneutic of obedience” (23). In order to demonstrate the first two points, he marshals evidence of inner-biblical exegesis (to use Michael Fishbane’s term). Chou begins with clear examples drawn from the prophets using earlier texts and demonstrates there are trajectories from earlier texts to later ones. For example, the prophets use the Exodus events to describe a future “new Exodus.” This is new revelation, but the later prophetic writer did not find a hidden meaning in the earlier text nor did the later writer change the meaning of the original text. As Chou says, the later writer draws out certain consequences from the earlier revelation (91).

In his second chapter he states three presuppositions. First, a reader ought to seek the author’s original intent. The task of hermeneutics is to trace the author’s logic and clearly understand what the author intended his readers to understand from a text. Second, there is a difference between meaning and significance. The task of exegesis is to understand the meaning of the text, but Scripture has significance for the lives of contemporary Christians. The meaning of the text has ramifications for Christ-followers in other contexts. Third, intertextuality is found throughout Scripture. Later in the book he argues every Old Testament book alludes to every other book (53). For the most part these presuppositions are not problematic for conservative scholars or evangelical in general.

Since Chou uses the term intertextuality throughout the book, he ought to carefully define what he means by this often used word. Unfortunately, he does not contrast his view of intertextuality with reader-response criticism or other more radical uses of the term. One common problem in intertextual studies is demonstrating an allusion to another text exists. By way of methodology, Chou briefly endorses a modified form of Richard Hays’s now standard set of criteria (39-40). In practice, Chou has a conservative view of intertextuality (not surprising given his evangelical commitments). The examples given throughout the book lean toward quotations and clear allusions and rarely fall into Hays’s category of an “echo of Scripture.”

Chou uses intertextuality (as he defines it) to map redemptive history and to read Scripture in light of previous revelation. This raises the issue of “going beyond the Bible” or what Chou calls “Trajectory Hermeneutics.” He is clear his method is not the same as William Webb in his Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals (226-7). Chou finds this method problematic since it misconstrues the redemptive historical trajectory with “movement in redemptive history” (228). He is concerned the trajectory some writers trace in Scripture result in a non-biblical conclusion. Given his interaction with Webb and others who use a trajectory method to support a more egalitarian view of the role of women in ministry, it may be the case in that particular issue Chou disagrees with the end point of the post-biblical trajectory rather than the method itself.

Since the prophets “intentionally positioned their writings for later writers to use” (119) The New Testament use of Old Testament texts underscores the continuity between the testaments. Chou focuses on quotations and clear allusions to Old Testament texts to demonstrate his point that the New Testament stands out the exegetical foundation of the Old Testament prophets in both the “big picture” of the Old Testament narrative as well as the details of individual texts. This is true for the Gospel writers as well as Paul, James, Peter and John. Chou gives examples for each demonstrating how the author reflects both the redemptive history of the Old Testament as well as citing (or alluding) to specific texts to make their theological points.

Chou makes his case that later writers built on earlier texts and interpreted them within a redemptive biblical theology. The broad examples he uses in the book are designed to support his thesis, although for any given example someone might raise objections. For example, within the canon of the Old Testament there is always the question of precedence. For example, did Joel use Isaiah, or was Joel written before Isaiah? Arguments can be made for either direction of inner-biblical exegesis in this case, or even for a common source. A second problem for Chou is oral tradition as opposed to textual tradition. Intertextual studies by definition focus on the exegesis of a text, but it is quite likely that Isaiah 40-55 is using Exodus and wilderness traditions rather than citing verses from a physical copy of the Book of Exodus as we know it today. Even in the New Testament texts were more often heard than read. If Jesus alludes to a text in his teaching, his audience would quite literally “hear the echo” of Scripture. But modern readers only have the report of the allusion as recorded by a Gospel writer. This adds a second layer of possible inner-biblical exegesis.

Despite these reservations (which in many ways go beyond the scope of the book), Chou’s The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers is a good introduction to the complexity of the intertextual nature of both the Old and New Testament.

 

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

 

Blackwell, Ben C., John K. Goodrich and Jason Maston. Reading Mark in Context: Jesus and Second Temple Judaism. Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan, 2018. 286 pp. Pb; $24.99. Link to Zondervan

This new volume of essays joins Reading Romans in Context (Zondervan, 2015), also edited by Blackwell, Goodrich and Matson. The book works its way through the Gospel of Mark by comparing a section of the gospel to a particular text from the literature of the Second Temple Period. The chapters are brief and written by experts in the study of the Gospels. But they are also written to appeal to people outside of the insular world of scholarly academics.

Blackwell, Goodrich and Maston, Reading Mark in ContextOne of the important ramifications of E. P. Sanders’s book Paul and Palestinian Judaism is the importance of Second Temple literature for reading the New Testament in a Jewish context. Sanders challenged scholars to actually read Jewish literature rather than rely on well-worn anachronistic descriptions drawn from secondary literature. Despite the reservations of John Piper and others on the value of using Second Temple literature to illuminate the Bible, most New Testament scholarship post-Sanders recognizes the value of the Second Temple period for setting the context for Jesus, Paul, and other New Testament writers.

Each of the book’s thirty chapters begins by setting the section into the context of Mark’s gospel followed by a brief introduction to the non-canonical book used in the chapter. The author of the chapter then offers a short commentary on the text of Mark using the lens of the Second Temple text selected for that chapter. The chapter concludes with three sections entitled “for further reading.” First, the author offers examples of other Second Temple texts which may shed light on the particular section of Mark examined in the chapter. The second section lists English translations and critical editions for the Second Temple text used in the chapter. Third is a list of secondary literature bearing on the theology of the particular section of Mark.

There is no need to summarize every chapter of this book, two or three examples will be sufficient (see the end of this review for the table of contents). Elizabeth Shively reads Mark 3:7-35 through the lens of the Testament of the Twelve, focusing specifically on the binding of Beliar in the Testament of Zebuon 9:8 and the Testament of Levi in 18:12. This background sheds light on Jesus’s exorcisms and the saying “no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house” (Mark 3:27). Her secondary literature section seven items, three on Jesus as an exorcist and two on Jewish eschatology and two on the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs.

Timothy Gombis discusses the Triumphal Entry (Mark 11:1-11) as a “subversion of triumphalism” by reading the text alongside the “triumphal entry” of Simon in 1 Maccabees 13. Mark presents Jesus as a faithful Davidic ruler while the crowds of disciples want to make him a conquering military hero like Simon (178). Gombis points interested readers to Psalm of Solomon 17 as additional background to the triumphal entry along with relevant parallel material in Second Maccabees and Josephus.

Jonathan Pennington compares the Parables of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71) and the coming of the Son of Man in Mark 13:1-37. Pennington focuses on two key elements from the Parables of Enoch, its apocalyptic worldview and the use of the phrase “son of man.” This chapter is very good as it is, but also frustrating because there is so much in these thirty-seven verses which need to be set in the context of the Second Temple period. Not only is the biblical section too large for a short chapter, the parables of Enoch is a large unit which is difficult to summarize in a few pages. There is about a page of text from 1 Enoch reproduced in this chapter, I would have liked less fully-quoted passages from 1 Enoch and more commentary on how 1 Enoch and Jesus share a similar “stock apocalyptic imagery” (215).

Conclusion. Reading Mark in Context is not a traditional commentary. The authors of each section focus on a single theological issue from the world of Second Temple Period Judaism. In some cases, the teaching or actions of Jesus are quite similar his Jewish contemporaries, but often Jesus subtly subverts what a Jewish listener might have expected to hear from a Jewish rabbi. For any given section of Mark covered in the book there are many other topics and texts which could have been the subject of the chapter. The book focuses only on Jewish literature for the background to the Mark, it would also be possible to write a similar book focusing on Greco-Roman material which illuminates the text. But to paraphrase the conclusion to the Gospel of John, these texts were chosen so that the reader might understand Jesus in a Second Temple Jewish context.

This book will be an excellent introduction for many readers to the literature of the Second Temple period and the application of that background material to the Gospel of Mark. The authors provide enough additional bibliographical material to assist students in finding in-depth studies of this literature.

 

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

Table of Contents:

  1. Rule of the Community and Mark 1:1—13: Preparing the Way in the Wilderness (RIKK WATTS)
  2. The Parables of Enoch and Mark 1:14—2:12: The Authoritative Son of Man (KRISTIAN A. BENDORAITIS)
  3. Josephus and Mark 2:13—3:62 Controversies with the Scribes and Pharisees (MARY MARSHALL)
  4. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and Mark 3:7—35: Apocalyptic and the Kingdom (ELIZABETH E. SHIVELY)
  5. 4 Ezra and Mark 421—34: Parables on Seeds, Sowing, and Fruit (KLYNE SNODGRASS)
  6. The Testament of Solomon and Mark 521—20: Exorcism and Power over Evil Spirits (MICHAEL F. BIRD)
  7. Mishnah Zabirn and Mark 5:21—6:6a: The Rules on Purity (DAVID E. GARLAND)
  8. Josephus and Mark 6:6b—29: Herod Antipas’s Execution of John the Baptist (MORTEN HORNING JENSEN)
  9. 4QConsolations and Mark 6:30-56: Images of a New Exodus V (HOLLY BEERS)
  10. The Letter of Aristeas and Mark 7:1—23: Developing Ideas of Defilement (SARAH WHITTLE)
  11. Jubilees and Mark 7:24—37: Crossing Ethnic Boundaries (KELLY R. IVERSON)
  12. The Damascus Document and Mark 8:1—26: Blindness and Sight on “the Way” (SUZANNE WATTS HENDERSON)
  13. Sirach and Mark 8:27—9:13: Elijah and the Eschaton (SIGURD GRINDHEIM)
  14. Tobit and Mark 9:14—29: Imperfect Faith (JEANETTE HAGEN PIPER)
  15. Rule of the Community and Mark 9:30—50: Discipleship Reordered (JEFFREY W. AERNIE)
  16. Mishnah Gittin and Mark 10:1——12: Marriage and Divorce (DAVID INSTONE-BREWER)
  17. Eschatological Admonition and Mark 10:13—31: Riches, Poverty, and the Faithful (MARK D. MATHEWS)
  18. Rule of the Congregation and Mark 10:32—52: Glory and Greatness in Eschatological Israel (JOHN K. GOODRICH)
  19. 1 Maccabees and Mark 11:1—11: A Subversive Entry into Jerusalem (TIMOTHY GOMBIS)
  20. Psalms of Solomon and Mark 11:12—25: The Great Priestly Showdown at the Temple (NICOLAS PERRIN)
  21. The Animal Apocalypse and Mark 11:27—12:12: The Rejection of the Prophets and the Destruction of the Temple (DAVID L. TURNER)
  22. Josephus and Mark 12:13—27: The Sadducees, Resurrection, and the Law (JASON MATSON)
  23. Psalms of Solomon and Mark 12:28—44: The Messiah’s Surprising Identity and Role (MARK L. STRAUSS)
  24. The Parables of Enoch and Mark 1321—37: Apocalyptic Eschatology and the Coming Son of Man (JONATHAN PENNINGTOM)
  25. Mishnah Pesahim and Mark 1421—25: The Passover Tradition (AMY PEELER)
  26. The Babylonian Talmud and Mark 14:26—52: Abba, Father! (NIJAY GUPTA)
  27. The Parables of Enoch and Mark 14:53—73: Blasphemy and Exaltation (DARRELL BOCK)
  28. Philo of Alexandria and Mark 15:1—15a: Pontius Pilate, a Spineless Governor? (HELEN BOND)
  29. 11QTemplea and Mark 15:15b—47: Burying the Crucified (CRAIG A. EVANS)
  30. 2 Maccabees and Mark 16:1—8: Resurrection as Hope for the Present (BEN C. BLACKWELL)

Duff, Paul B. Jesus Followers in the Roman Empire. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2017. xii+263 pp. Pb; $30.   Link to Eerdmans

It is common for a modern reader of the New Testament to read their spiritual experience into the earliest Jesus followers. But words like conversion, baptism, and church have modern nuances of meaning which are sometimes quite different than the first century. For example, as the early Jesus movement moved away from Jerusalem and into the Roman world, evangelists reached out to Gentiles, Roman pagans who worshiped both local gods and imperial deities. Duff compares the ancient context of the New Testament to an alien, foreign environment (241).

Paul Duff Jesus followersin the Roman EmpireWhat would the Roman culture think when someone joined a Christian community? Since Christians worshiped Jesus exclusively, they rejected family and local gods. As Duff explains, what we call “conversion” would be seen by the Romans as a “deserting ancestral traditions as a defection from ancestral customs for foreign laws” (115-6). By accepting the Gospel of Jesus Christ these “converted pagans” were challenging accepted cultural values and they put themselves in mortal danger.

Paul Duff’s Jesus Followers in the Roman Empire attempts to set the Jesus movement into the context of the ancient world. This book sets some of his previous more technical work on the churches in Revelation, Who Rides the Beast? Prophetic Rivalry and the Rhetoric of Crisis in the Churches of the Apocalypse (Oxford 2001) and his recent Moses in Corinth: The Apologetic Context of 2 Corinthians 3 (NovTSup 159; Brill 2015) into a more popular form.

In the first section of the book, Duff begins with a survey of the three competing worldviews in which the Jesus movement developed. Chapter 1 sets the stage by tracing the Hellenization of Judea and the rise of Roman power after 63 B.C. In some ways Jews were open to Greek culture, but reacted strongly against the attempt to force Jews to Hellenize by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Having set this context, Duff then gives a short account of the Jesus movement and the “quest for the historical Jesus.” He correctly observes “that all of Jesus’s teaching and actions were performed in a Jewish context” (63) and that the claim Jesus was the Messiah can be traced by to Jesus’s own teaching (67). Duff then moves to the development of the movement after the resurrection (although what the disciples of Jesus actually experienced is unclear to Duff (70). He is suspicious of using Acts as a historical source since he dates the book late, written A.D. 80-120 (68) and contains “novelistic interpretations” (74).  Duff observes that Paul did not focus on the Kingdom of God as the other Jesus followers did, preferring to call Jesus Lord or Son of God (75).

Chapter 3 traces the movement from idols to the true God. Although Duff is doubtful about the historicity of the book of Acts (101), Acts 14 as a model for understanding paganism and the gods. (Duff defends his use of the term pagan in his introduction.) In the Roman world, there were many gods and those gods were like humans and occasionally interacted with people (90). Sometimes this interaction was good, and humans might cajole a god into acting on their behalf through worship and sacrifice. That Paul and Barnabas could be gods was a real possibility for the people of Lystra in Acts 14. Paul’s sermon in Acts 14 is significant since he declares that he worships the “living and true” God (as opposed to the not-living and false gods of the pagan world). This God’s wrath is coming on all people and he will judge the world through his son, “whom he raised from the dead.” By accepting the message of Jesus even the pagans can escape this coming wrath.

This preaching was attractive to some pagans and they not only listened to the message Paul preached, but accepted it and turned from false idols to the living God (1 Thess 1:9-10). What was it in Paul’s preaching that was compelling to the Greco-Roman world? There were people throughout the empire who were already attracted to Judaism (the God Fearers like Cornelius in Acts 10) and perhaps others who were attracted to Judaism without making a commitment. For Duff, Paul was an “itinerant Judean religious expert” (136) who used the Hebrew Scripture and worked miracles in order to reach people who were already interested in religions from the “mysterious east.”

Duff uses Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:28 to describe the earliest churches in the pagan world. Paul’s ideal church was “neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free.” The earliest Jesus movement was a family in which women played a significant role. Similarly, Paul’s churches had a place for women as well. He surveys the list of women who Paul specifically mentions in this letters (Phoebe, Chloe, Priscilla, etc.) Duff dismisses 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 as an interpolation, although he does not argue this point (162) and does not think Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles so 1 Timothy 2:11-12 does not represent Paul’s churches (166-7). Although there were a few wealthy members, the earliest Christians were from fairly low economic and social status (192).

The third section of the book is a pair of chapters treating the accommodations the Jesus movement made as well as the resistance to Empire. By committing themselves to the exclusive worship of Jesus, new Christians severed ties with the culture in which they lived. Duff compares early churches with voluntary associations in the Roman world. Like a local house church, these associates met regularly and often had sacred rituals and moral expectations. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper have parallels with these associations, but the worship of Jesus as Lord sets the early church apart from any pagan counterpart (207).

Gentiles in Paul’s churches would have been under enormous pressure to participate in civic life, including festivals dedicated to various gods. In chapter 8 Duff describes some of these civic festivals or sacred meals at temples. Could a Christian attend a birthday celebration for a family member if the meal was hosted at a local temple? Modern readers are often confused by the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols in the New Testament, including Acts, Paul’s letters and the book of Revelation. Marriage to a non-believer was also a complicated issue, as 1 Corinthians 7 makes clear. Both controversies continues well into the second century, Duff cites Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho and Tertullian as an examples.

Conclusion. Duff succeeds in this goal of immersing the reader in the ancient world, teasing out the implications living in the Greco-Roman world for the early Jesus movement. In a study such as this I would have expected more on the Imperial Cult (only a few pages, 86-88). In addition, there is little on Paul’s view of the Empire (was Paul anti-imperial?) Since Duff is skeptical of the book of Acts, he does not make much used of Paul’s activity in Ephesus in Acts 19 or the challenge of the Gospel to the cult of Artemis. Nevertheless, Jesus Followers in the Roman Empire is a valuable introduction to the study of early Christianity.

 

 

 

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

Allert, Craig D. Early Christian Readings of Genesis One: Patristic Exegesis and Literal Interpretation. BioLogos Books on Science and Christianity. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2018. 338 pp. Pb. $36.99   Link to IVP Academic  

Craig Allert is a professor of religious studies at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia and an expert on early Christianity and the development of Christian doctrine. His 2002 monograph Revelation, Truth, Canon and Interpretation: Studies in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 64; Leiden: E.J. Brill) discussed how the second century writer Justin understood Scripture.

Craig Allert book on Genesis One, Church FathersThis new book is the fourth in the BioLogos Books on Science and Christianity series published by IVP Academic. Allert addresses the use and abuse of early church writers to support certain views of Genesis 1. The main purpose of the book is to correct common misconceptions about what the church fathers meant by literal interpretation and “creation out of nothing.” Throughout the book Allert draws on material produced by Answers in Genesis (AiG), Institute for Creation Research (ICR), and Creation Ministries International (CMI). Some of this material appears in popular formats, including blog posts. These organizations generally reject any higher critical approaches to exegesis and “appropriate the church fathers as advocates of a nascent creation science position” (107).

After a preliminary chapter outlining what he means by the church fathers, Allert offers several examples of “how not to read the fathers.” He provides several examples of popular writers on the issue of Creation who claim the church fathers read Genesis one as referring to literal days, usually alongside the claim the Church considered the days in Genesis 1 to be literal, 24-hour days until the Enlightenment, Darwinism, and theological liberalism. For Allert, there are several problems with the use of the fathers by most Creationists. First, they proof-text and overgeneralize. For example, Creationists cite Basil as an example of young-earth creationism in the church fathers, then assume he represents the whole of the “church fathers” (without citing any other examples). Second, among conservative Christianity, there is a general lack of knowledge about the church fathers so it is almost impossible to quote them with any helpful context. As a result, writers who claim Basil was a literal six-day creationist are pulling proof-texts out of context and not taking into consideration everything else Basil said about reading Genesis 1.

In the third chapter of the book Allert discusses what the “literal interpretation” meant in Patristic exegesis. There is a popular misconception that a writer was either literal or allegorical (or spiritual) in their exegesis of Scripture. But as Allert demonstrates, the situation is more complicated than this strict dichotomy. Writers often took notice of the plain meaning of a text, but then went on to create spiritual readings in order to challenge their listeners.

The main test case Allert uses in the book is Basil of Caesarea (329-379), specifically his book Hexameron (“six days”). Written around 370, the book is a series of sermons delivered during Lent on Genesis 1. The ninth sermon in the book is often cited by creationists as proof Basil interpreted the days of Genesis 1 as six literal days. But as Allert argues in this book, Basil is not attacking allegorical readings of Scripture, but “excessive allegorization” by the Manicheans (197). On closer examination, Basil uses the same method of reading Scripture as Origen (a church father usually vilified for his allegorical method!)

In the following two chapters of the book Allert examines two doctrines often cited as foundational by creationists, creation out of nothing (creation ex nihilo) and the literal day in Genesis 1. Creation out of nothing has been challenged as a theology not drawn from the Old Testament but rather it was constructed to respond to the eternal universe in Greek philosophy. For the literalness of the six days, Allert examines several oft-quoted church fathers and finds some support for reading the days as literal, 24-hour days. But there is nothing ion Basil (for example) which indicates he thought Genesis 1 was giving a scientific (literal) description of creation (246).

Throughout the book Allert deals with the nature of creation and time. As the church accepted creation out of nothing as doctrine, Christian theologians and philosophers began to ask what God was doing before he created the universe. A possible answer to this question is my favorite line in this book: “he was getting hell ready for people who inquisitively peer into deep matters” (269). Allert examines Augustine’s view of time and eternity more closely in chapter seven. Most Christians have a sense that “God is outside of time,” although likely drawn from C. S. Lewis rather than Augustine. Augustine argued God is eternal and created the world “with time” (273), and the days of creation are no more literal than God’s “rest” on the seventh day. Augustine cited John 5:17, “my father is working until now” as evidence God’s rest on the seventh day is not a literal time of rest (278). For Augustine, creation did not happen in “a time measured way” (287).

I have several comments about Allert’s about the book. First, I am convinced an allegorical method is not good exegesis when the text under examination is clearly not an allegory. For example, obviously Jotham’s fable in Judges 9 some kind of an allegory, and there are figurative elements of Jesus’s parables, especially the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. Allert addresses this concern with an anecdote from John MacArthur who looked back an early sermon he wrote as a “horrible” example of allegorizing a text (p. 108). I have to agree with MacArthur, that sort of exegesis is bad. Of course this opens up the question to what an ancient writer was trying to do with a text, but that is a topic for another book.

Second, Allert proves his case that the ancient church fathers were not proto-creationists and current creationists ought to stop misinterpreting them. Selective citations in order to proof-text one’s view is dangerous, since there is plenty in Basil or Augustine which would not at all be acceptable to a modern conservative creation. But there is nothing in this book (or the church fathers) which anticipates other responses to Darwinism, such as progressive creationism (old earth creationism) or theistic evolution. Ancient writers read Genesis within their own worldview, a worldview which did not contend with modern science.

Third, Allert is correct to raise awareness that the real problem is the nature of time and eternity. His discussion of Augustine’s view is important, but more theological and philosophical work needs to be done on God’s nature and his relationship with this universe. That creationists who hold to literal days in Genesis 1 do not worry too much about this issue is evident from the lack of citation of creationists in chapters 5-7 in this book.

This book is a necessary contribution to the ongoing discussion of Genesis 1. Allert corrects some serious misconceptions and offers a more contextual reading of Basil, Augustine and others who commented on Genesis 1 in antiquity.

 

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.

 

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