Book Review: Michael F. Bird, An Anomalous Jew: Paul among Jews, Greeks, and Romans

Bird, Michael F. An Anomalous Jew: Paul among Jews, Greeks, and Romans. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2017. xii + 322 pages; Pb. $28.   Link to Eerdmans

This new collection of essays from Michael Bird includes three chapters previously published and two lengthy chapters written for this volume. A lengthy thirty-page introduction explains what Bird means by “an anomalous Jew” (aside from the play on John Meier’s work on the Historical Jesus, A Marginal Jew or Daniel Boyarin’s Paul: A Radical Jew). Although it is commonplace in contemporary scholarship to acknowledge Paul’s Jewish roots, Bird points out Paul says things that no other Torah-affirming Jew would say and he was opposed violently by Torah-affirming Jews. Paul’s view of what God is doing in the present age through Jesus Christ led to his “decentering of the Torah” (7). So if Paul is a Jewish thinker, how should he be situated in what we know about Second Temple period Judaism?

Prior to the twentieth century, situating Paul within Judaism was not even considered since Paul was read as completely rejecting his Jewish (legalistic) religion and “converting” to Christianity. Aside from the historical anachronisms, the traditional view of Paul was at best anti-Semitic. But since the Holocaust Pauline scholarship had returned the idea Paul represents some form of early Judaism. Bird offers several contemporary scholarly opinions that Paul was a Former Jew (Martyn), a Transformed Jew (Sanders, Dunn and the New Perspective), a Faithful Jew (Mark Nanos), or even a Radical Jew (Daniel Boyarin). Bird picks up on a suggestion from John Barclay that Paul was an anomalous diaspora Jew, although he wants to include the “thoroughly Judean Paul” of W. D. Davies, E. P. Sanders and the New Perspective (27).

Having charted the course in his introduction, Bird then turns to “Salvation in Paul’s Judaism” (chapter 1, a shorter version appeared in Paul and Judaism, LNTS 463; T&T Clark 2012). He begins by surveying several recent attempts to describe Paul’s view of salvation as being either against Judaism or within it. If Paul was against the Judaism of his day, then he was necessarily supersessionist and conceived of Christianity as the replacement for Israel. But if Paul stayed in some sense within Judaism, then Paul viewed Jews and Gentiles as a “remnant within Israel who occupy a special place within an irrevocably elected Israel” (45). Bird concludes Paul was somewhere between these two poles since he seems intra-Judaism with respect to halakic discussions, but contra-Judaism in the sense he says things no Second Temple Jew would, such as the Torah leads to death.

Written specifically for this volume, the second essay in the collection asks if Paul was an Apostle to the Gentiles and Jews. Bird begins with the observation that Paul’s title of “apostle to the Gentiles” has obscured his continued mission to the Jews. Since the epistles of Paul may be used to argue Paul only went to the Gentiles after his conversion, the accuracy of Acts is questions (since Paul continues to reach out to Jews throughout his whole career). Bird therefore focuses this essay on the place of the Jews in Paul’s apostolate to the Gentiles (71). In order to achieve this goal, he begins with an overview of the vocabulary Paul used for non-believing non-Jews (ἔθνη, Ἕλλην, ἀκροβυστία, περιτομή, ἄνομος). This vocabulary is more “fuzzy” than often observed, especially when used to describe the target of Paul’s mission. Bird has a helpful chart on page 85 demonstrating that there are both lawless Gentiles and Jews, Greeks (Hellenes who may also be lawless) but Diaspora Jews (who might be Hellenistic but keep the Law).

Bird argues Paul did in fact target Jews in the Diaspora, but also that his mission evolved over the years. Although this is not controversial as far as I can see, Bird goes on to ask when Paul received his commission to go to the Gentiles. He argues the evidence from Acts is ambiguous. Acts 9:15 indicates he was to carry Jesus’ name to “Gentiles and Kings and the sons of Israel.” In fact, Paul does go to synagogues where he preaches that Jesus is the Messiah, and he does continue to go to synagogues in the book of Acts. One potential problem is Paul’s time in Arabia, but Bird argues Paul’s focus was on Jews living in the Nabatean kingdom, especially around Damascus. What may be controversial in this essay is Bird’s contention the commission to go to the Gentiles occurs after the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. It is only after this watershed moment that Paul begins to partition his Gentile churches from the synagogues (96). Bird thinks this may help understand Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22 that he became a Jew in order to win the Jews, and a Gentile to win the Gentiles. Given the flexible vocabulary Paul uses to describe his mission, Paul’s target were those who were not in Christ, which may include some Jews. The door was opened to the Gentiles, but as Bid says, it was never closed to the Jews (104).

By the end of this chapter, Bird indicates Acts is a trustworthy guide, which raises a question for the thesis Paul’s Gentile mission developed more fully after the Jerusalem Council. Although he acknowledges the synagogue sermon in Acts 13 is paradigmatic for Lukan theology, he overlooks the important symbolic miracle earlier in that chapter. After “Barnabas and Saul” visit synagogues on Cyprus, Saul approaches a Roman official. This man is not a God-fearing Gentile (like Cornelius) and appears to be a pagan Roman. When Saul attempts to share the Gospel with him, a Jewish sorcerer attempts to stop him. At this point in the story Luke tells the readers Saul is also called Paul, and Paul delivers a judgment speech on the Jewish sorcerer and he is blinded for a time. After this dramatic incident, Luke only uses the name Paul and almost always places Paul first (“Paul and Barnabas,” the only exception is at the Jerusalem council). This symbolic blinding is explained in the synagogue sermon later in Acts 13, where Paul and Barnabas “turn to the Gentiles” for the first time in the book of Acts. Luke has used this story at a crucial turning point in his overall story, but the incident also seems to indicate Paul was targeting a Roman official before the Jerusalem council. I have no doubt Bird is correct that Paul’s missionary strategy developed and matured over the years and it is absolutely the case Paul continued to use the synagogue as a platform for preaching Jesus as Messiah. But perhaps he was engaged in Gentile mission such as approaching Romans such as Sergius Paulus from the beginning.

At a combined one hundred pages, chapters 3 and 4 are a kind of mini-commentary on Galatians. In chapter three Bird offers an assessment of recent apocalyptic readings of Galatians (“An Invasive Story: An Apocalyptic and Salvation-Historical Rereading of Galatians”). As his first two footnotes make clear, apocalyptic readings of Galatians are a hot topic for Pauline scholars in recent years. There are two ways of nuancing the issue. For many Pauline scholars such as Krister Stendahl, a salvation-history or covenantal approach is an adequate explanation for Paul’s theology. Paul’s theology is set within the larger story of Israel. But for others (Käsemann and Beker), apocalyptic is central to Paul’s thinking. By apocalyptic, these scholars focus on Jesus as the messiah and his death and resurrection as an apocalyptic event which creates a new world, perhaps a new “kingdom of God.” Louis Martyn and Douglas Campbell make a sharp distinction between these two approaches, although others (Wright, Dunn, for example) see a unity between salvation history and an apocalyptic reading of the Christ event. After surveying some of the literature, Bird engages with Martyn’s apocalyptic interpretation of Paul (especially in his Anchor Bible Galatians commentary) in order to show the dichotomy between salvation history and apocalyptic is not necessary. Bird says “there is no requirement we divorce Paul’s apocalyptic theology from its metanarrative of the Jewish Scriptures” (116) because apocalyptic properly understood is the climax of God’s saving purpose for his people, not a whole new start, and certainly not a repudiation of the past” (121). After examining several key texts in Galatians, Bird concludes “Paul’s apocalyptic gospel is necessarily salvation-historical by nature of the Jewish context of his eschatology and Christology” (167).

This conclusion helps unpack the title of the collection, Paul was truly anomalous in the sense that the Law was preparatory for salvation rather than necessary for salvation, a conclusion which was provocative and an affront to Paul’s Jewish opponents. I am reminded of F. F. Bruce’s comment in his Galatians commentary, the Law was a parenthesis between the promise to Abraham and the present age (NIGTC, 153-4). This view of the Law would certainly be anomalous in Second Temple Judaism.

In chapter four, Bird returns to Galatians 2:11-14 and argues the incident at Antioch represents “the beginnings of Paulinism.” An earlier version of this essay was published in Earliest Christian History (ed. Bird and Matson; WUNT 2.320; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012): 329-61. In this essay, Bird returns to one of the more tantalizing sections of Galatians, Paul’s confrontation of Peter in Antioch. In chapter 2 Bird has already suggested Paul’s mission to the Gentiles developed over time and that the Jerusalem council (Acts 15) played a significant role in targeting Paul’s missionary efforts at the Gentiles.

The final chapter in this collection (“The Apostle Paul and the Roman Empire”) is an expansion of Bird’s contribution to Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not (IVP Academic, 2013). Bird thinks “anyone vaguely familiar with the Roman imperium could see Paul articulating the vision of an alternative empire” (254). In the earlier essay, Bird made four points in favor of an anti-imperialism in the Pauline letters. Each are considerably expanded for this new essay, as are his “lingering doubts.” His literature survey is slightly expanded and now includes interaction with “Augustus guru” Karl Galinski and some account of the “scholarly melee: between John Barclay and N. T. Wright with respect to the importance of the imperial cult to this discussion. What is extremely valuable is the inclusion of all of the texts in Romans which may (or may not) be read as anti-imperial. In the shorter essay Bird was limited to only Romans 1:16-17; 13:1-7 and 15:5-13. In this longer form essay he is able to be more comprehensive as well as draw more scholarship into the dialogue. However, his conclusion remains the same: “Romans is not a political manifesto” (Jesus is Lord, 161; An Anomalous Jew, 253), both essays citing William Ramsay’s statement that “a universal Paulinism and a universal Empire must either coalesce or they one must destroy the other.”

Conclusion. As with any collection of essays drawn from various sources, there is potential for lack of cohesion between the chapters. Bird has worked hard to draw previously printed essays back to the title of the book: why does Paul appear to be an anomalous Jew? Although this is achieved by editing the introductions and conclusions to each essay, each topic does in fact demonstrate Paul operated within the world of Judaism, but he certainly did not fit the pattern of other early Jewish Christ-believers or other Jewish groups from the Second Temple period.

 

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: Laansma and Gauthier, The Handy Guide to Difficult and Irregular Greek Verbs

Laansma, Jon C. and Randall X. Gauthier. The Handy Guide to Difficult and Irregular Greek Verbs. Aids for Readers of the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel Academic, 2017. 80 pgs; Pb. $13.99 Link to Kregel

Kregel Academic recently sent me a copy of their latest volume in the “Handy Guide” series of New Testament Greek tools. The first in the series was Douglas S. Huffman, The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek (reviewed here). Like this previous handbook, Laansma and Gauthier provide a user-friendly quick reference which will be an important supplement to any New Testament Greek course.

The Handy Guide to Difficult and Irregular Greek VerbsThe goal of The Handy Guide to Difficult and Irregular Greek Verbs is to provide a set of vocabulary aids not found in other vocabulary lists. Most beginning Greek students tend to think of the present active first singular forms as a kind of “default” for a Greek verb, but this is often an unfortunate assumption. The authors therefore define a “difficult or irregular verb” from the perspective of that first year Greek student: these are the verbs which have unusual principle parts and are therefore the most difficult to recognize while reading the New Testament.

My typical approach to principle parts has been to have students memorize the 25 most common irregular verbs in the second semester of Greek, and then another 15 in the third semester (reviewing the original 25). The problem with this method is some principle parts are so rare in the Greek New Testament it is not profitable to memorize them. Laansma and Gauthier point out that φέρω occurs 192x in various compound forms, but the second principle part οἴσω only appears three times. It is probably a waste of student effort to memorize the rare form, but it is important to memorize the third principle part, the aorist form ἤνεγκα since it more common and used in compound forms.

The best thing about this book is the four page list of irregular verbs ordered by frequency in the New Testament. Each block of 10-12 forms are assigned a letter (a-j). The list begins with δόντος (the aorist active participle, masculine genitive singular of δίδωμι). Although δίδωμι itself only appears 415x in the Greek New Testament, compound forms run that number closer to 600x. By learning this form, the student will recognize forms of παραδίδωμι and ἀποδίδωμι, for example.

Part 2 of the book is an alphabetical list of verbs with their compound forms. Taking φέρω as an example, they list the six principle parts, printing the most common in bold and indicating which of the lists in part 1 the form appeared. Only the aorist and aorist passive forms are common enough to appear on the lists in part 1, the future active appears online three times and the perfect middle/passive does not appear at all in the Greek New Testament.

The book has two appendices. The first prints the full paradigms of εἰμί and ἵημι in present and imperfect forms. The first is the extremely common to-be verb and appears in numerous compound forms and must be memorized if one is going to read Greek. This second form is not found in the New Testament, but compound forms are common (ἀφίημι for example). The second appendix deals with perfect and pluperfect middle/passive forms as well as the optative mood. Although many of these are formed regularly, they are rare enough to qualify as “difficult” forms in this handbook.

Conclusion. This book should be in the hands of every Greek student as they struggle to read the New Testament. This handbook should be a go-to reference for difficult verbal forms.

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

Top Biblical Studies Book Reviews of 2015 on Reading Acts

Too Many BooksI reviewed 47 book reviews this year on Reading Acts. I always appreciate the publishers who send me review copies. I do read these books and write the same sort of review I would write for a Journal. I usually exceed 1000 words for a review, and in some cases I have divided the review into sections so that the review approaches the length of a review article.

Here are my Top Ten Book Reviews by hits in 2015:

  1. Constantine R. Campbell, Advances in the Study of Greek: New Insights for Reading the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2015.
  2. Greg K. Beale with David H. Campbell. Revelation: A Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2014.
  3. Robert H. Gundry, Peter: False Disciple and Apostate according to Saint Matthew. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015.
  4. Thom S. Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2014.
  5. Gordon D. Fee, 1 Corinthians, Revised Edition. NICNT Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2014.
  6. J. B. Lightfoot, The Gospel of John: A Newly Discovered Commentary. Edited by Ben Witherington III and Todd D. Still. The Lightfoot Legacy Set 2; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015.
  7. Peter T. O’Brien, Hebrews. PNTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010.
  8. Michael F. Bird, The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2014.
  9. Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians. Second Edition. Word Biblical Commentary 40; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2014.
  10. Gordon D. Fee, New Covenant Commentaries 18. Eugene, Ore.: Cascade, 2011.

Two commentaries by Gordon Fee make the list, and I reviewed the Revelation commentary in 2012 yet it still had enough hits to make the list this year. There were a few reviews I thought would have ranked higher, such as Nancy J. DeClaissé-Walford, Rolf A. Jacobson, and Beth LaNeel Tanner Psalms commentary in the NICOT series from Eerdmans, or Mark Boda’s ‘Return To Me’: A Biblical Theology of Repentance in the NSBT series from InterVarsity. Both were posted in the latter part of the year so they had less time to accumulate hits. On the other hand, my review of Campbell’s Advances in the Study of Greek was posted in July and hit the #1 spot.

I recently updated by Book Review index so you can see all the books reviewed on Reading Acts over the years. There are 240 posts tagged as Book Reviews at the present time, although a few a more like book announcements. I hope you all enjoy the reviews because I enjoy writing them. I look forward to another year reviewing on Reading Acts.

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Book Review: Mark L. Strauss, Jesus Behaving Badly

Strauss, Mark L. Jesus Behaving Badly: The Puzzling Paradoxes of the Man from Galilee. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2015. 223 pp. Pb; $16.00.   Link to IVP

In his introduction, Strauss points out most everybody likes Jesus. Although he begins with a mention of the Doobie Brothers’ hit single, Jesus is Just Alright, I thought of another song when I looked over the table of contents—Larry Norman’s The Outlaw. In that classic early “contemporary Christian” song, Norman sang “some say he was an outlaw….some say he was a poet….some say he was a sorcerer…some say a politician.” Every generation makes Jesus into something more recognizable and every scholar tends to read the teaching of Jesus in a way that supports their presuppositions.

Jesus Behaving BadlyAs Strauss says in the introduction, Albert Schweitzer lambasted his generation for turning Jesus into a nineteenth century German Protestant Liberal, Larry Norman made him into a Jesus Freak hippie, just conservative American Christians make Jesus into a gun-toting fiscal conservative who drives a Ford truck. There is often a kernel of biblical truth in these odd portrayals of Jesus, often over-emphasizing a particular aspect of Jesus’ teaching to the exclusion of others. To be honest, Jesus does sometimes say and do things which may, on the surface, appear contradictory. He teaches his disciples to turn the other cheek, then he kicks over the tables at the Temple and occasionally is angry and frustrated with the lack of faith among his followers!

In order to study Jesus in the context of his own culture, Strauss proposes a series of contrasting descriptions of Jesus, such as “Hellfire Preacher or Gentle Shepherd?” or “Racist or Inclusivist?” In both of these examples, the answer should obviously be “neither.” One or two texts could be used to prove the extremes, but as Strauss points out, Jesus is far more complex than one or two verses. In the final chapter, (“Decaying Corpse or Resurrected Lord?”), Strauss is more or less arguing for a traditional view of Jesus’ resurrection through the use of a contrast.

Strauss’s first example is in many ways the most often cited contrast. Jesus can be described as a “revolutionary” similar to the Zealots who eventually went to war against Rome, but in many other passages he is a pacifist, blessing the peacemakers and turning the other cheek. So which is it? Did Jesus come to bring peace or did he come with a sword? Strauss tries to stay clear of the two extremes since Jesus does in fact resonate with more radical elements in Second Temple politics, but he also teaches his disciples to create peace.

As a second example, is Jesus “Angry or Loving?” There are a few verses where Jesus seems to be rude and offensive, angrily denouncing his opponents as a “brood of vipers.” There are times when his frustrations with his own disciples comes out as potentially angry statements. In some cases, these are glossed over by translators, but they are there and need to be recognized. How do we reconcile anger with the loving image most people have of Jesus? Strauss avoids both extremes by setting the “hard sayings” of Jesus in their proper historical and cultural context.

Some of the contrasts Strauss proposes will have different answers in different theological communities. For example, the answer to the question “was Jesus a failed prophet or victorious king?” may be answered differently in a premillennial community and a-millennial tradition. For the chapter concern Jesus as a “sexist or egalitarian,” church practice tends to inform why Jesus had only male disciples or what we make of Jesus’ relationship with Mary and the other women who followed him. Each of these chapters offers a solution, but each should generate some interesting discussion.

Some of Strauss’s contrasts seem strange to me. For example, in one chapter he asks if Jesus was an “environmentalist” or an “Earth-scorcher?” The two examples of non-environmentalism are the casting of demons into pigs who then kill themselves and Jesus’ curse on a fig tree, withering it until the end of the age. As Strauss explains, neither of these have much to do with environmentalism (the fig tree is a parabolic act not a model for the pave-the-Earth movement). I have a similar impression from the chapter entitled “Antifamily or Family Friendly?” Of course Jesus is “family friendly” in the way the phrase is normally used and the negative examples were never intended as models for mission (leave your family and follow Jesus). I realize Strauss is finding a way to deal with some “hard sayings of Jesus,” but both these chapters seemed like false-contrasts to me.

The most interesting chapter for me is “Was Jesus Anti-Semitic?” This is not a contrast, at least in the title of the chapter, but it does get at a very difficult problem in the study of the Gospels. Certainly Jesus was “against” some of the Jews, he in fact calls the “sons of the devil” in John 8:44. Sadly verses like this have been used to give biblical support to heinous crimes against the Jewish people. But Jesus was not anti-Semitic at all: he was a Jewish teaching who taught Jewish people to respond to the Jewish God properly. Anyone who thinks Jesus was “Anti-Jew” and therefore “pro-Christian” is simply foolish.

This issue raises a small problem with the book. Perhaps the question should have been, “was Jesus Anti-Semitic or was the Gospel Writer Anti-Semitic?” Since John wrote more than a generation after Jesus, it is possible to argue Jesus himself was not quite so angry with the Jews but John presented him in this way in order to support his own theology. Strauss does not broach the issue of historical Jesus or the authenticity of Jesus. The Jesus Scholar in my mind constantly raised those kinds of questions, but Strauss keeps this book on the popular level. He assumes everything in the Gospels comes from Jesus and does not worry about the source of the theology (Jesus or the Evangelist). Strauss deals with that in other places (Four Portraits, One Jesus, for example).

Another minor problem I have with this books is some of the chapters have excellent content that seems tangential to the topic. For example, in his chapter on Grace or Legalism, Strauss spends a large part of the chapter talking through several parables of grace. This is not a bad response to the question he poses, but it seemed to me the chapter was used as an opportunity to discuss parables as much as the topic of grace. Perhaps a section on Jesus’ habit of eating with sinners would have supported the idea Jesus was a grace-filled preacher as much as the parables Strauss chose.

Conclusion. This is a readable introduction to some of the issues one faces when they begin to read the Gospels seriously. Strauss writes the book on a non-academic level with a great deal of humor as well as plenty of pop-culture references. Although academic, it is written with a pastor’s heart.

The book includes a few study questions which could be used as discussion starters for a small group Bible study. In fact, I think this book would make an excellent read for a small Bible Study group interested in going a bit deeper into who Jesus was than the typical curriculum normally goes. The book might make a good auxiliary textbook for a Gospels college course, supplementing a more thorough textbook. Strauss challenges his readers to think more deeply about who Jesus is by stripping away some of the pre-conceptions about Jesus passed along by tradition and the Church. The result is clearer view of who Jesus was and more importantly, why Jesus still matters to his disciples today.

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

Book Review: Bandy and Merkle, Understanding Prophecy

Bandy Alan S. and Benjamin L. Merkle. Understanding Prophecy: A Biblical-Theological Approach. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2015. 264 pp. Pb; $21.99. Link to Kregel

There have been several introductory handbooks for the Prophets have appeared recently. Most of these recent textbooks focus on the background and theology of each individual book. Rather than survey the Old Testament prophetic books, Bandy and Merkle present a study on how prophecy works in the whole canon of Scripture, including the New Testament.  In fact, the main theme of the book is not the prophetic books themselves, but how messianic prophecy functions.

4271 cvr final CC.inddWhat makes this book different is the diversity of views represented by the authors. Bandy identifies himself as a Historic premillennialist, while Merkel calls himself an amillennialist. Both are committed evangelicals who believe the Bible is God’s word and is a divinely inspired message from God. In addition, both agree the Bible has a unified message that centers on Jesus, his death and resurrection. This means that all prophecy is to be read Christologically.

In part one of the book, Bandy and Merkle offer three chapters on how to interpret prophecy. Everything in the prophets concerned with Jesus’s death and resurrection as the climax of redemptive history. While it is true the prophets do look forward to a messiah and the eschatological age, there are whole sections of the prophets which have very little to do with the coming Messiah. For example, Amos and Hosea are more concerned with social ethics and the unavoidable exile of Israel. It is hard to make Ezekiel 16 into a messianic prophecy! In fact, it is possible to argue much of prophetic literature refers to the immediate context of the prophet and the coming judgment on either Samaria or Jerusalem, the exile or the future return from exile. This prophetic “forth-telling” is overlooked in this book, although in practice the authors do often recognize prophecies which do not refer to a future messianic age (conditional and fulfilled prophecies in chapter 4, for example).

The focus of part two is on Old Testament prophecy. First, the authors examine unconditional prophecies (such as the Abrahamic Covenant), conditional prophecies (such as Jonah’s announcement of the destruction of Nineveh), and fulfilled prophecies (such as the prophetic condemnation on Babylon in Isaiah 13). Here is the recognition that some Old Testament prophecy is fulfilled in the Old Testament itself, but that is not the focus of the book.

There are many Old Testament texts which predict a restoration of Israel in the future. These “restoration prophecies” are problematic since they seem to be unfulfilled with the coming of the Messiah. Chapter 5 therefore discusses the possibility these prophecies were fulfilled in the church in a literal future (Jewish) kingdom. They conclude the prophecies of a restoration of Israel were never meant to be interpreted in a literalistic way, therefore any interpretation that expects a literal Israel to rebuild a literal Temple in the future simply minimizes the finished work of Christ on the cross (123).

Possibly, but did not the Jewish followers of Jesus continue to worship at the Temple well into the present age? Even Paul worshiped in the Temple as late as Acts 21 and James leads a church in Jerusalem which is still “zealous for the law” (Acts 21:20). Presumably these zealous Jewish Christians worshiped in the Temple, perhaps without making sin offerings. There are many ways to worship at the Temple besides making atonement for sin.

In chapter 6 Bandy and Merkle survey various Messianic prophecies. After a short discussion of what “counts” as a messianic prophecy, they conclude some of these prophecies have a direct fulfillment in the life of Jesus, others are partially or typlogically fulfilled (149). That the messiah was to be a prophet, priest and king are examples of typological fulfillments (since Jesus was not actually a king). But this chapter also includes passages such as Micah 5:2, predicting that messiah will be born in Bethlehem and Zech 9:9, fulfilled when Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem on “Palm Sunday.” Unfortunately there is no method offered for sorting out what prophecies are “direct predictions” and which are typological.

In the third part of the book, Bandy and Merkle focus on two aspects of New Testament messianic prophecy. First, they discuss prophecies of the coming of the Messiah (chapter 7). This includes examples like Zechariah’s prophecy of the birth of Jesus as well as elements of Jesus’ message such as the kingdom of God. The point of this section is to show that “Jesus did not come unannounced” (170).

Chapters 8-10 focus on predictions of the return of the Messiah in the Gospels and Acts (chapter 8), the Epistles (chapter 9) and Revelation (chapter 10). Here is where the views of the two authors diverge the most, since it is possible the Olivet Discourse refers to the Second Coming of Jesus (premillennialism) or to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (amillennialism), or a balance between these two extremes (the already/not yet” view). Too much of this chapter is devoted to an attack of the “left behind” interpretation of Matthew 24:41. Many dispensationalism rejected this passage as referring to the rapture long ago and Merkle is entirely correct that the reference is to judgment not a rapture of the church. But not a single dispensationalist is cited in this section, making me wonder what the motive for attacking an outmoded and abandoned view might be. The book includes an appendix on the problematic phrase “all Israel” in Romans 11:26.

Conclusion. This is not a textbook on the prophetic books, and as such does not discuss the prophets as iconoclastic voices calling Israel and Judah back to covenant faithfulness nor is the book interested in the social ethics of the prophets. While the authors do state the prophets do address their own times, but emphasis in this book is on prophecies of the coming eschatological or messianic age.

There is a conscious effort in the book to interpret prophecy in a way that is as distant from dispensationalism as possible. Bandy makes this clear in the appendix where he indicates he does not want to be associated with the Left Behind style of millennialist. Earlier in the book he uses Tim LaHaye as an example of overly literal interpreters of prophecy (58). Even Charles Ryrie is used as an example of someone who warns against straying too far from a literal interpretation, although I do not recall Ryrie engaging in the sort of wild-eyed interpretations one finds in the Left Behind series.

Fair enough, some dispensationalist have engaged in overly-literal interpretations of prophecy (and looked foolish for doing so). But much of what this book argues resonates with the more rational, ecclesiological form of dispensationalism (Darrel Bock, Robert Saucy, Dale DeWitt). In fairness, the authors cite Kevin Vanhoozer’s distinction between the “literal sense” and literalism. The literal sense is what the author intended to mean when he originally used symbols for symbolic language. In my experience, few serious interpreters of prophecy attempt pure literalism when reading prophecy.

Despite my misgivings, this is a useful introduction to how OT messianic prophecies are interpreted in the New Testament, although the title implies the volume is more comprehensive than it actually is. Bandy and Merkle achieve what they have set out to accomplish, although not all readers will be happy with the results of this dialogue between millennial views.

This volume could be improved by the addition of a subject and Scripture indices.

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

 

 

 

Book Review: Allen and Linebaugh, Reformation Readings of Paul

Allen, Michael and Jonathan A. Linebaugh, eds. Reformation Readings of Paul: Explorations in History and Exegesis. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015. 280 pp. Pb; $28.00.   Link to IVP

The so-called new perspective on Paul often complains that Luther read his own situation into the apostle Paul. It is often stated that Luther misunderstood Paul because he did not understand second temple. Judaism, and he was imposing his own struggle with the Roman Catholic Church on the text of Galatians and Romans. But how Luther or any of the reformers actually read Paul’s writings is never explored. This book attempts to fill this missing link in scholarship. This book is something of a supplement to the growing collection of reformation commentaries also published by IVP academic.

Reformation Readings of PaulIn his introduction, Jonathan A. Linebaugh suggests there is a disconnection between the “Lutheran Paul” and Martin Luther as a reader of Paul. Perhaps Luther’s reading of Paul was not a good one, but the only way to determine this is to actually read Luther’s exegesis of Paul’s writings. The goal of Reformation Readings of Paul is to “catch the reformers in action as exegetes” (15). The book is sort of a “there and back again” tale in which the reader passes through the reformers to the more distant Paul, but always with the goal of returning to the present to understand how these important texts still have meaning today.

In order to achieve this goal the editors have selected five reformation scholars for which the exam in one particular section of the Pauline writings. Each section has a pair of chapters, the first by a historian who describes how the particular reformer read Paul. The second chapter in each section is written by a Pauline scholar and attempts to fit the reformers reading of Paul into a larger Pauline theology. The second essay in each section is not a response but rather an interaction with the data collected by the historian. Perhaps the analogy of a dialogue is best, these chapters attempt to describe a dialogue between Paul and Calvin for example.

The editors selected the following pairings: Galatians and Martin Luther, Romans and Philipp Melanchthon, Ephesians and Martin Bucer, 1 & 2 Corinthians and John Calvin, and finally Thomas Cranmer and the whole Pauline collection. This is not a book focuses solely on Luther, or even Luther and Calvin. The inclusion of sections on Melanchthon and Bucer make this a more diverse collection, and a section on the English reformer Thomas Cranmer is remarkable.

Gerald Bray’s conclusion to the collection reminds us that even though the reformers were “fully engaged in the Renaissance humanism of their time,” the heart of the Reformation was a theological crisis ignited by the Gospel (264). Late medieval theology was preoccupied with paying off the enormous the debt of sin owed to a righteous God. In that world Luther’s interpretation of “the just will live by faith” was both radical and liberating. For Bray, modern critics of the reformers miss the spiritual dimension that makes sense of Luther and Paul (272). Certainly we know more today about Second Temple Judaism that the Reformers, but they connected with Paul in their own time in order to bring the light of the Gospel to a very dark world.

 

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

 

Book Review: Jim Turner, So-Called Christians

So Called ChristiansTurner, Jim. So-Called Christians: Healing Spiritual Wounds Left By The Church. Greenville, South Carolina: Ambassador International, 2014.157 pages, pb., $11.99   Link

Jim Turner is a pastor with more than 25 years of experience in a variety of church settings. He works with ChurchOneNow, a ministry focusing on “rebuilding unity and restoring relationships” for people who have been hurt and spiritually damaged by their experience in the church. Turner claims that more people have been hurt by the church than World War Two; as many as 37% of un-churched Americans say they do not attend church because of a negative experience.

The goal of So-Called Christians is to meet the suffering caused by the church head-on and offer some healing to people who have genuinely been damaged by Christians. The first two chapters of the book describe the problem of the church as an “autoimmune disease.” By this Turner means the Church is destroying itself. He uses to 1 Cor 1:10-13 and argues the Church today destroying itself with schisms. He jokingly “translates” 1 Cor 1:13 as “Is Christ divided? Was Charles Stanley crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of John Piper?” (34). Later in the book he calls this “doctrinal snobbery.”

In contrast to the divisive nature of the Church today, Jesus’ prayer for the Church is unity (John 17). In chapters 3-5 Turner describes the biblical idea for the church. Paul’s ideal for the Church is having one mind, unified around the idea of Jesus. Turner therefore examines the virtues in Col 3:12-14 as traits of Christ that would promote unity in the church if they were consistently practiced. He also examines the unity resulting from having the “mind of Christ” (Phil 2) and draws several applications to relationships within the church.

In Chapters 6-7 Turner begins to deal with the boundaries defining “Christian.” He makes a distinction between a “matter of conscience” (drinking a beer or smoking a pipe), a “doctrinal distinctive” (local church government, sign gifts, day of worship), and “essential Christian doctrine” (clear moral absolutes and defining doctrines of the faith). Anyone reading this book will likely fill in their own issues in each of those categories, but the idea that there are some things a Christian must reject and must accept is clear. It is the middle category (“matters of conscience”) where judgment and division happen.  He uses the example of contemporary worship here and advises we not “argue over opinions” (citing Roman 13). It is important, however, to accept the fact that my liberty might be a stumbling block to another Christian. A person who “exercises their liberty” in a matter may need to limit themselves so that they do not cause a brother or sister to stumble (85). This is an excellent point, but I wonder how far Turner is willing to push his principle of not judging in “matters of conscience.” The examples he gives are fairly straightforward, but there are other issues that are much more difficult and culturally sensitive.

Chapters 8-10 discuss the doctrinal lines defining Christianity. For the most part, Turner is a conservative evangelical and includes a twenty-four page article from Norman Geisler on the essential doctrines of Christianity. He has a summary of “essentials” drawn from the classic Christian creeds. Following Geisler, he divides these between items necessary to be saved (Trinity, human depravity, deity and humanity of Christ, necessity of grace and faith, Christ’s atoning death and his resurrection) and items that are not necessary (virgin birth, ascension, Christ’s present service and his second coming). Lest you think he is some sort of Rob Bell, Turner is clear that Geisler’s list is correct, but he would not separate from a brother in Christ for misunderstanding the virgin birth or the second coming. His point in this section is that a “loving defense of the truth maintains unity” (122).

There are several things missing from this book. First, I would have liked Turner to be even more forthright about the real problem facing the church today.  Like the church at Corinth, the real heart of our divisive spirit is sin and pride. Since he is writing to people who have been hurt, I suspect that he avoids calling disunity a sin, but that seems to be what Paul would have said to Corinth.

Second, and more perhaps critically, the book does a great job dealing with the solution, but Turner does not deal with any specific, controversial issues. For example, I agree many people stop attending church because they were “judged” by people in a local church. But in my experience, doctrinal issues are rarely the problem. In the modern American church it is very easy to find out what a church believes, simply check their website and you will likely get all the mission statements and doctrinal affiliation information you need. The people I meet who have been wounded by the church are people who have a lifestyle that just does not work in the typical evangelical church. The teenager with several tattoos and piercings who attends a typical church wearing his Slayer t-shirt and a dog-collar is going to be judged by the homeschool kids in youth group. I know of several situations where parents did not want their kids attending youth group because “those kids” were in the group, so this scenario is not far-fetched at all.

Third, sometimes hurt Christians have deep personal sins resulting in a harsh attack by the local church. The book does not address the hurt people have when they are attacked by a well-meaning (or just mean) person over a sinful lifestyle. For example, there are homosexual Christians who are in fact judged harshly by some churches and made to feel so uncomfortable they walk away from the church entirely. How can a church “love the sinner” while “hating the sin”? This is a real problem in contemporary American churches, but this goes beyond Turner’s stated goals for this book. Nevertheless, the harsh attitude towards sinners from the more conservative branches of the American Church need to be addressed and there was opportunity for Turner’s book to do just that.

Conclusion. Turner’s book was written from his personal experience in the Church and his commitment to being the Church as it is described in the New Testament. This is not a scholarly book filled with detailed exegesis; it is a heartfelt reflection on the Word of God as he observes the destructive power of divisions in the church.

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