When Was the Book of Revelation Written?

Perhaps more than any other New Testament book, the date for the writing of Revelation is important for interpreting the book. If the book was written in the 90s, then the immediate background for the book is persecution of Christians under Domitian. But if the book was written before A.D. 70, then the persecution in the background of the book is Nero’s backlash against Christians after the fire of Rome.

Fall of Jerusalem (David Roberts, 1850)

Fall of Jerusalem (David Roberts, 1850)

Another factor is the Fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. It is fairly obvious the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple are somehow related to the images in the book. For a preterist like Ken Gentry, the book of Revelation is revealing “what will happen soon,” and the soon-event is the destruction of Jerusalem. (See his Before Jerusalem Fell, for example.) For other preterists who do not feel the need to preserve Revelation as a book of prophecy, the fall of Jerusalem is in the background as a past event that provides a set of metaphors.

The majority of the early church assumed that it was under Domitian’s persecution that the book was written. Irenaues said that John wrote “nearly in our generation,” at the end of the reign of Domitian. All of the secular evidence for persecution under Domitian comes from after his reign. Pliny the Younger wrote a tribute to Emperor Trajan:

He [Domitian] was a madman, blind to the true meaning of his position, who used the arena for collecting charges of high treason, who felt himself slighted and scorned if we failed to pay homage to his gladiators, taking any criticism of them to himself and seeing insults to his own godhead and divinity; who deemed himself the equal of the gods yet raised his gladiators to his equal.

In 1 Clement 1:1, written in A.D. 96, alludes to “the sudden and repeated calamities and reverses that have befallen us.” 1 Clement 4-7 contains several references which might be taken as either referring to the martyrdom of Peter and Paul or the present persecutions under Domitian.

Since all of the sources describing Domitian as a megalomaniac who demanded worship as a god date from after his reign, some argue the later sources are painting the old emperor in a negative light (perhaps to paint Trajan in a good light). DeSilva disagrees, arguing instead that “Domitian valued cultic language as an expression of social and political relationships.” This language would have been imposed on the lower levels of society as a method of declaring loyalty to the state (“The ‘Image of the Beast’” TrinJ 12 [1991], 199).

I am personally inclined to retain the late date for the book and see the imperial cult as the potential background for many things in the book. I am not opposed to the destruction of Jerusalem as a possible background, but (for me) it does not have to be predictive of the event. There is no problem for John to be using a past event like Rome’s obliteration of the city of Jerusalem to talk about other, still future judgments.

What difference might it make to reading Revelation if the book is early (pre A.D. 70) as opposed to in the 90s?

Book Review: Craig A. Evans and H. Daniel Zacharias, eds., “What Does the Scripture Say?” (LNTS 470) – Part 2.2

Evans Craig A. and H. Daniel Zacharias, eds., “What Does the Scripture Say?”: Studies in the Function of Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity: Volume 2: The Letters and Liturgical Traditions. LNTS 470; Studies in Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013. Hb $130;  Pb $34.99; Logos $31.99. Link to Bloomsbury T&T Clark  Link to Logos

Craig A. Evans and H. Daniel Zacharias edited this two-volume collection of essays on the function of Scripture presented at the Society of Biblical Literature’s Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity program unit in 2008 and 2009. Volume one collects essays on the Gospels, the second volume includes epistles and other liturgical tradition.

Due to the length of this review, I will break each volume into two posts (Volume 1, part 1, volume 1, part 2, volume 2 part 1).

Evans Volume 2

Eve-Marie Becker examines Pauline Allusions to a Narrative Jesus Tradition in 2 Corinthians 3:14, 18. 2 Corinthians 1–7 is characterized by theological remarks on the apostolic ministry prompted by misunderstandings. Becker argues this “lack of information” 3:14 is a reference “a narrative Jesus tradition that we also find in Mark 9:2–8” (123). After analyzing the Traditional-historical background of 2 Corinthians 3:4–18, Becker suggests Paul is using the transfiguration story from Mark alongside Exodus 34. Why would both Paul and Mark refer back to Exodus 34? Paul focuses on the visibility of God’s glory, while Mark alludes to the Sinai story in order to create a theophany. Usually Mark 9 is explained as Jesus as revealing the same glory as Moses experienced on Sinai. Becker suggests both 2 Corinthians 3 and Mark 9 are linked to each other “in a more complicated way that exceeds the usage of Exodus 24/34 as pre- or inter-texts” (128). This means Paul presupposes a pre-Markan transfiguration story in order to claim the age of “veil wearing” is over: God’s glory is clearly and fully revealed in Jesus. But Paul’s revelation of that glory makes him a participant in the transfiguration and there receives similar authority (131).

Bogdan G. Bucur studies representations of “the vision of Habakkuk” in Byzantine mosaics, icons, and manuscript illuminations have some peculiar features (“Vision, Exegesis, and Theology in the Reception History of Habakkuk 3:2 (LXX)”). These mosaics often depict a majestic Christ escorted by two angels, or Christ enthroned on a platform upheld by four creatures, or a vision of Christ shared by Habakkuk and Ezekiel. What is odd is the canonical Habakkuk has no such vision. The Scriptural basis for the vision of Habakkuk of Jesus between two angels is found in the Septuagint of Habakkuk 3:2, “Lord, I have heard report of you, and was afraid: I considered your works, and was amazed: you will be known between the two living creatures.” How this peculiar Greek reading of Habakkuk 3:2 developed is unclear, but it is clearly the basis for these icons. Bucur cites Origen use of Habakkuk in conjunction with the vision of God enthroned in Isaiah 6 (140), and then traces the development of this interpretation in various church fathers. Finally, he suggests this interpretation is an example of a chariot vision (merkavah) as found in the Babylonian Talmud, where the “vision of Habakkuk” and the vision of Ezekiel as set out as readings for Shavuot, the feast of the giving of the Giving of the Law” (143).

Karen H. Jobes examines “The Greek Minor Prophets in James” in order to understand how early Christian writers interpreted the Minor Prophets. If the letter of James was written by James the Just, then it is the earliest evidence of how early Christians used prophetic tradition of the Minor Prophets. After the usual warnings about parallel mania, Jobes offers a short overview of her intertextual method of “lexical clustering.: Despite the fact James is lacking verbal parallels with the text of the Minor Prophets long enough to be called quotations, Jobes suggests James worked from the LXX of the Minor Prophets and created lexical clusters of tradition. Following Jeffery Leonard, she define a lexical cluster as “the accumulation of shared language suggests a stronger connection than does a single shared term or phrase” (148). She provides a chart summarizing 26 key word in James as they are found in Hosea, Amos, Zechariah, and Malachi. As for the Greek text, James follows the LXX in Genesis Leviticus and Proverbs almost exactly, his alludes to the Twelve in less formally. Although Amos is usually recognized as James’s main influence, Jobes suggests Hosea is most influential on the letter. For example, in James 3:13 is very close to Hosea 14:9. James alludes to Malachi 3:5-6 in six verses scattered throughout the letter, as Jobes demonstrates in a convenient chart (156).

Michael D. Matlock traces “Innovations of Solomon’s Temple Prayer in Early Jewish Literature” by focusing primarily on the prayers of petition in 1 Kings 8:22–53 and the larger context of 1 Kings 8 and 9. Beginning with the MT, Matlock makes several observations about the structure and theology of Solomon’s prayer, and then compares the MT to the OG, concluding “the OG enhances Solomon’s position in virtually all variations between OG and MT” (167). For example, the LXX seems to reject pantheistic theology made popular by the Stoics (that God is inseparable from all matter and form). The Old Greek translator adds the words μετὰ ἀνθρώπων (“with men”) in v. 27 to avoid this confusion. Moreover, in v. 44, the OG strives to avoid the implication that Yhwh was bound to Jerusalem by rendering the phrase אל־יהוה דרך העיר (“to the Lord, toward the city”) adding ἐν ὀνόματι (“in the name of”). Matlock observes the translator takes every opportunity to enhance Solomon’s position, including enhancement of the fame of Jerusalem and the glory of Solomon’s kingdom. The translator avoids anthropomorphism and anthropopathism (169) and “diverts any pantheistic notion found in the MT and avoids the notion that God is not omnipresent” (170). By way of comparison, Matlock examines the same prayer as reported in Josephus, (Antiq. 8.107–8, 111–17). Josephus rewrites Solomon’s short two-verse prayer (1 Kgs 8:12–13) in two extended sections which represent “explicit ideas of Josephus’ theology and philosophy” (172), including a “kind of Stoic pantheism” (173). Josephus embeds his own Hellenistic philosophical thinking and rational theology into this prayer (174). Matlock argues Josephus presenting the finest ideas in the Greek culture as part of the Hebrew genius.  Solomon’s prayer is therefore Josephus’ vehicle to enhance pantheistic Stoic views of God and place them in the mouth of Solomon (184). Matlock then compares this to the version of Solomon’s Temple Prayer in Targum Jonathan. The structure and organization of Solomon’s prayer shows no significant alteration and anthropomorphic language is avoided. The targumist eliminates references which might indicate the existence of competing gods (184).

Finally, Elsie Stern offers a study of tannaitic prayers (“Praying Scripture: Rethinking the Role of Biblical Utterances in Early Jewish Liturgy”). Her goal is to re-examine tannaitic construction of kriʾat shema from the perspective as a recitation of scriptural passages (188). The highly innovative nature of kriʾat shema, as it is constructed in the tannaitic literature. The ritual is the first case in which adult Jewish men, regardless of their professional class or educational background, are required to recite large units of scripture verbatim. For example, in M.ber 2:4, the form of precise, verbatim repetition “resonates strongly with the practice of literate text-brokers” trained in memorization and faithful reproduction of orally transmitted materials (193). She concludes that while written torah was “public property” of both Jews and Christians, the oral torah was the “private patrimony of rabbinic Jews” who saw this form as superior and therefore a marker of theological superiority (199).

Conclusion. The essays in this collection cover a broad range of topics than the first volume (Volume 1, LNTS 469), combining John’s Gospel, Paul’s letters and James, but also how the LXX, Josephus, the rabbinic traditions as well as early church iconography understood Scripture. Both volumes speak the wide variety of approaches the Hebrew Bible by later Christian and Jewish readers. It would be impossible to create a general statement which fairly describes how all Christian readers read Scripture, let alone the LXX, Josephus and other Jewish voices. The strength of this volume is its breadth, but perhaps this is also the weakness. A collection of twelve essays could be produced on just John or Paul, although these sorts of collections do exist. More work could be done on the LXX in comparison to other Second Temple Jewish readings of Scripture. Matlock’s essay, for example, opens up some interesting lines of inquiry by comparing the LXX and Josephus. I would have like additional essays on other Second Temple literature (Jubliees as Scripture re-written, DSS exegesis, etc.), but these go beyond the scope of the series.

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

Book Review: Craig A. Evans and H. Daniel Zacharias, eds., “What Does the Scripture Say?” (LNTS 470) – Part 2.1

Evans Craig A. and H. Daniel Zacharias, eds., “What Does the Scripture Say?”: Studies in the Function of Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity: Volume 2: The Letters and Liturgical Traditions. LNTS 470; Studies in Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013. Hb $130;  Pb $34.99; Logos $31.99. Link to Bloomsbury T&T Clark  Link to Logos

Craig A. Evans and H. Daniel Zacharias edited this two-volume collection of essays on the function of Scripture presented at the Society of Biblical Literature’s Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity program unit in 2008 and 2009. Volume one collects essays on the Gospels, the second volume includes epistles and other liturgical tradition.

Due to the length of this review, I will break each volume into two posts (Volume 1, part 1, volume 2, part 2, volume 2 part 1, volume 2, part 2).

Evans Volume 2Alicia D. Myers examines the use of synkrsis in John’s Gospel to portray Jesus as a new Moses (“The One of Whom Moses Wrote”: The Characterization of Jesus through Old Testament Moses Traditions in the Gospel of John”). Synkrisis is “language setting the better or the worse side by side” by Theon (Prog. 112).  She illustrate this method with Chariton’s romantic novel Chaereas and Callirhoe and Plutarch’s Life of Alcibiades. John repeatedly uses synkrisis and synkritic language to emphasize that the relationship between Jesus and Moses is complementary instead of competitive (2). After an introduction to synkrisis, characterization, and intertextually in the ancient world, Myers examines the passages in John (3:13–15; 6:1–59; the combined passages of 1:45 and 5:39–47) to show that John used synkrisis characterize Jesus as “the one of whom Moses wrote” in contrast to the Pharisees. John uses allusions and quotations of explicit Old Testament Moses traditions . . . in order to supplement the characterization of Jesus (12) and this method is much like he common rhetorical device synkrisis. With the exception of Dedication, the festivals were initiated by Moses. Passover is especially important since John makes the connection between Jesus and the Passover Lamb more clear than the Synoptic Gospels. But this is not to say the Gospel makes Jesus superior to Moses, by attending to the rhetorical form, we see a Jesus who is not in competition with Moses, Moses is the greatest witness to Jesus.

Bryan A. Stewart examines “Text, Context, and Logical Analysis: A Reexamination of the Use of Psalm 82 in John 10:31–39.”  Stewart is not interested in solutions to the exegetical problems to the very difficult problems found in this passage, but rather the “Johannine use of Ps 82 by merging a broader contextual examination with an exercise in logical analysis” (21). Surveying previous scholarship and relevant rabbinic texts, Stewart argues the gods of Ps 82:6 (θεοί) are human judges as opposed to angels or the nation of Israel. Jesus began in chapter 10 by declaring he is the good shepherd anticipated in Ezekiel 34, a text which was about the poor leadership of the nation. The Pharisees were questioning Jesus’ identity as the good shepherd and preparing to be both judges and executioners. “You are gods” is part of a traditional rabbinic qal wahomer argument, if scripture called those people (to whom the Word of God came) gods, how much more should one who is greater than them be called “Son of God.” Human judges were appointed by humans, Jesus was appointed by God; human judges received the word of God, but Jesus is the word of God coming to the people; humans were delegated to render justice, Jesus is himself the judge, although it is not clear if this is a divine or eschatological judge.  “To call Jesus “son of God” is, for the Fourth Gospel, to ascribe to Jesus an equality with the divine and an authority to grant eternal life.”

Steve Moyise asks “Does Paul Respect the Context of His Quotations? Hosea as Test Case.” It is well known that Paul sometimes makes minor changes in order to make his point, something which modern readers describe as not respecting the text. While this is impossible to prove and an anachronistic question Moyise examines several citations of Hosea in Paul in order to argue Paul does not respect the context of his quotations from Hosea, but he is aware of the overall message of Hosea and uses that context appropriately. Moyise argues we should distinguish Paul’s thought process (which we do not have access to) and Paul’s conclusions (which is all we have access to). As Moyise puts it, modern readers tend to hear Paul’s audaciousness rather than his conformity (50). Paul’s use of Hosea 13:14 in 1 Corinthians 15:54 is less a quotation than a blending of Hosea with Isa 25:8 based on the common word “victory.” Paul does respect the overall context of Hosea since the original context is judgment. Paul turns it into a statement of victory, but this is also what Hosea does eventually, in 14:4-7.  It would therefore be unfair to say Paul did not respected “the message of Hosea” (42).  To say Paul does not respect his sources makes him sound like a superficial writer who has no interest in the meaning of the text which he cites. Paul does not explain the exegetical process by which he went Hosea’s oracle of judgment to an assertion of victory over death.

David Lincicum compares “Paul and the Temple Scroll” as shared engagement of the book of Deuteronomy. Paul is usually described as the “law free” apostle, while the Temple Scroll can be fairly described as extending the Law for the Qumran community. By contrasting the two approaches to Deuteronomy, Lincicum argues that while “Paul’s reading may be “historically outrageous” in terms of a modern historical-critical perspective,” there are analogies in the Temple Scroll. Paul’s use of scripture is not strange or unique from the perspective of other Second Temple writers (61). By examine what Paul does with Deuteronomy, “Our purpose here is simply to point to the possible light shed on Paul’s practical concern with Deuteronomy when viewed against a document like the Temple Scroll, and to suggest that Paul’s ethics are not as “law-free” as sometimes alleged” (64). “Both Paul and the Temple Scroll are concerned with the contemporization of Deuteronomy” (69). Paul and the Temple Scroll are on opposite ends of the spectrum with respect to rewriting the Law, yet both are concerned with the application of Deuteronomy to the present situation. Paul did not know the Temple Scroll and the Qumran could not have known Paul, yet they are in dialogue in the sense that both have a great deal to say about the Law and use Deuteronomy extensively. Despite his critique of the Law and his Gentile mission, “Paul does not seem to have devoted less attention to Deuteronomy than his Jewish peers” (52).  The Temple Scroll can be understood as an extension of the Law at the very least, “Whether the Scroll means to displace the original form of those commandments which it reprises in modified form is more difficult to say” (58).

Kyle B. Wells also examines Paul’s use of Deuteronomy (“The Vindication of Agents, Divine and Human: Paul’s Reading of Deuteronomy 30:1–14 in Romans”). Wells wonders how a text like Deuteronomy 30 might have shaped Paul’s understanding of grace and agency. Briefly summarizing Francis Watson and J. L. Martyn, Wells concludes “Deut 30, because of its optimistic evaluation of human nature, could not have been understood by Paul as a positive witness to the gospel” (71). On the other hand, Deuteronomy 30 is ambiguous and open to differing perceptions with respect to Israel’s agency. These verses can be read as prioritizing human agency (Israel repents) or divine sovereignty (Yahweh returns to Israel). While the first is the consensus view, Wells suggests there is enough syntactical ambiguity to allow for the text to be read as an interplay between God’s action (circumcising the heart) and Israel’s turning to God (repentance). This is how Deuteronomy 30 was read at Qumran, at least in lines 1-2 in the Words of the Luminaries: “some at Qumran attribute heart-circumcision to divine initiative and agency and expect obedience to be the result”(85). Turning to Paul, Wells hears “reverberations of Deut 29–30 in Rom 2:17–29.” In reading Romans this way, Wells argues the Jew in Romans 2:17 represents all Jews and that by not believing in Jesus, they remain in exile and risk eschatological judgment rather that eschatological life (88). Just as in Deut 30, obedience is required for life, but what does Paul understands heart-circumcision as God’s restoration of a believer to the status of moral agent so that they can respond properly.

David Luckensmeyer examines an overlooked connection between Obadiah and 1 Thessalonians (“Intertextuality between Obadiah and First Thessalonians.”) The motif of the “day of the Lord” (ἡμέρα κυρίου) and the description of that day coming “as a thief,” ὡς κλέπτης appear independently in Obadiah, in vv. 15 and 5. But Luckensmeyer could only really find thematic parallels between Paul and Obadiah, and the no plausible sitz im leben could be suggested for Paul’s use of Obadiah in this case. In fact he admits “This whole exercise might be viewed as nothing more than an attempt to squeeze another publication out of a recently published revision of a Ph.D. dissertation” (119).  Luckensmeyer therefore follows a suggestion by Aichele, Miscall, and Walsh in a 2007 JBL article on postmodern interpretations of Scripture: “Meaning is not located in the single text, planted there perhaps by an originating author, but instead meaning is only found between texts” (99). Luckensmeyer therefore intends to reinterpret 1 Thessalonians in terms of a “reader-created intertextuality between it and Obadiah” (100).

According this kind of intertextual reading, Paul has slipped into a prophetic role and (perhaps) unconsciously mimicked Obadiah’s style. In order to achieve this goal, Luckensmeyer lists verbal and thematic parallels between LXX Obadiah and 1 Thessalonians. He admits from a historical-critical perspective, some or all of these parallels are coincidental and may be part of a wider biblical tradition. Day of the Lord, for example, is so common it is impossible to state with any certainty at all Paul had a give text in mind. But reading the two texts in dialogue does create some new insights. For example, the “the awake/asleep” language may reflect Paul’s view of election and the biblical struggle between Jacob and Esau. Less convincing is Luckensmeyer suggestion that Paul uses polemical language against the Jews” similar to Obadiah’s polemic against Edom. There is, however, some warrant for reading Edom as a type or Rome (Philo, for example), so that the day of the Lord will catch a sleeping Rome unaware, like a thief. Another possible conclusion Luckensmeyer suggests divergences between the Hebrew and Greek texts of Obadiah may shed light on Paul’s emphasis on those “who live, who remain” (οἱ ζῶντες οἱ περιλειπόμενοι, 1 Thess 4:15, 17).  The Hebrew of Obad 14 and 18 has “survivors” (שׂריד), which is translated as “the escaping ones” (τοὺς φεύγοντας) and as “fire bearer” (πυροφόρος), respectively, the intertextual connection between “escaping” and “survival” to be quite relevant for interpretations of 1 Thess 4:15, 17.

Part two of the review is here.


Book Review: Craig A. Evans and H. Daniel Zacharias, eds., “What Does the Scripture Say?” (LNTS 469) – Part 1.2

Evans Craig A. and H. Daniel Zacharias, eds., “What Does the Scripture Say?”: Studies in the Function of Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity: Volume 1, The Synoptic Gospels. LNTS 469; Studies in Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013. Hb; Pb; Logos $31.99  Link to Bloomsbury T&T Clark    Link to Logos

[Due to the length of this review, I will break each volume into two posts:  Volume 1, part 1, volume 1, part 2, volume 2 part 1, volume 2, part 2].

Evans LNTS 469Jens Herzer suggests a solution to the “The Riddle of the Holy Ones in Matthew 27:51b–53: A New Proposal for a Crux Interpretum.” In this difficult passage many holy ones are raised to life at the time of Jesus resurrection and go into the Holy City. Herzer suggests Matthew has expanded on the well-known story of Jesus; death with “signs that seem to underline the apocalyptic character of Jesus’ death.” (143). For Herzer, the significance of Matt 27:51b–53 cannot be understood “an eschatological-apocalyptic interpretation based on traditional motifs or parallels, but only by an interpretation from the context of Matthew’s Gospel and its Christological and martyrological concept” (144). He surveys suggestions for parallel sources for this event (Ezek 37:12; Zech 14:4-5; Dan 12:2), but none are convincing. Nor are any parallels to Greco-Roman or Jewish literature. Following Joachim Gnilka, Herzer suggests the Holy ones in Matthew 27 should be understood in the light of the prophets and righteous ones Jesus refers to in Matt 23:29. These holy ones suffered and were killed, but now have been released from death by the death of Jesus and bear witness to the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (152). The resurrection of the saints is therefore not a foreshadowing of the eschatological resurrection but an allusion to the actual tombs of the prophets, their resurrection underscores the mission of Jesus to Israel and the meaning of his death and resurrection.

Jocelyn McWhirter discusses “Messianic Exegesis in Mark 1:2–3,” Following the lead of Donald Juel, McWhirter suggests the three texts cited in Mark 1 (Exod 23:20; Mal 3:1; Isa 40:3) are applied to John and Jesus because Mark “interprets them as messianic prophecies on the basis of shared vocabulary with acknowledged messianic texts” (159). The rest of Mark’s Gospel makes it clear these three texts are to be understood as messianic prophecies (161). She describes the “messianic exegesis” suggests all of Mark’s messianic interpretation are based on Psalms 89, 110 and 118. He is using messianic exegesis to argue Jesus is the one expected in the Psalm. Messianic exegesis is using any verse to shed light on another if there is shared vocabulary (166). “Mark seems to have inherited the rabbis’ method, but not their conclusion (170).” She challenges a near consensus that the New Exodus is sufficient to explain this combination of biblical allusions in Mark 1. Mark’s quotation of Isa 40:3 and other allusions to Second Isaiah would likely not be enough to evoke the “new Exodus” for the original audience. There is no direct evidence that anyone really used phrases like “new exodus” or “suffering servant” in the wan modern New Testament scholars do.

Jamal-Dominique Hopkins studies the “Levitical Purification in the New Testament Gospels” especially as the related to Jesus’ activity among marginalized people. The fact that Jesus appears to relax purity regulations for marginalized people is demonstrated in the “especially curious in the way impure persons are declared clean by Jesus” (180).  Judaism in the late Second Temple period frequently associated outward bodily state with consecrated status (181). Hopkins examines several purity issues, such as hand washing, corpse contamination, leprous contamination and  concludes there are “specific individuals who, prior to Jesus’ liberating pronouncements, were socially and religiously regarded as unclean under Jewish Levitical law.” These liberating acts suggest the “force and nature of Levitical purity was understood variantly during the late Second Temple period” (190). Hopkins concludes the followers of had less rigid attitudes with regard to Jewish legal stipulations and these attitudes compare to Pauline, Gentile congregations. For Hopkins, the Jesus movement is “moving from the observance of common ritual procedures to a more spiritualized ideology” (190).

Amanda C. Miller contributes an article on victory songs in the Second Temple period as background for reading the Magnificat (“A Different Kind of Victory: 4Q427 7 i–ii and the Magnificat as Later Developments of the Hebrew Victory Song”). Similarities between Hannah’s song (1 Sam 2) and Mary’s song indicate the poetic expressions is part of a larger tradition which celebrates God’s dramatic action on behalf of the “least of these” (193). Miller first introduces the hodayah in 4Q427 7 i–ii since it less familiar than the Magnificat and then proceed to examine the genre “victory hymn” in the Hebrew Bible (Song of Deborah and Hannah) and literature of the Second Temple period (Judith and The War Scroll).  She then offers a detailed comparison of the Magnificat and 4Q427 7 i–ii in four areas: theology, anthropology, status reversals, and eschatology. All of the songs she examines make use of military and divine warrior language, and she concludes the “Magnificat and the hodayah in 4Q427 7 i–ii are at home in the tradition of the victory hymn, but they are at the far end of the continuum” (204). If Miller is correct, then why would Luke use the genre of victory hymn for Mary’s prayer?  Miller suggests “early Judaism and early Christianity were both struggling with the problems of domination by Jerusalem elites, illegitimate client rulers, and ultimately the Roman Empire” (211). Luke’s gospel indicates Christianity was subtly opposing Rome and needed to hide subversive language in the voice of a marginalized character like Mary.

Adam Gregerman examines “Biblical Prophecy and the Fate of the Nations in Early Jewish and Christian Interpretations of Isaiah.” He investigates how a study of exegesis of Isaiah’s phrase “light for/to the nations/peoples” (42:6; 49:6; 51:4) and how this relates to early Christian mission to the Gentiles. As Gregerman observes, the idea Judaism was a “missionary religion” has been question by recent scholarship. Little evidence exists for missionary activity and much of the literature formally described as “missionary tracts” may not have been written for that purpose. In addition, it is not clear why Jews would attempt to convert Gentiles to a religion which was difficult and potentially dangerous for them. There is simply no evidence for intentional efforts at missionary outreach in the Second Temple period (218). Turning to the use of Isaiah 42:6, Late Second Temple period Jewish texts numerous interpretations of this phrase “light to the Gentiles” is never cited as support for missionary activity. Although the Septuagint “ratchets up hope for the Gentiles” by translating vague Hebrew phrases more explicitly, God’s blessings on the nature of the eschatological ingathering of the Gentiles remains unchanged. The same is true for Tobit 13:11, Testament of Levi 14:4, Wisdom of Solomon 18:4, and 1 Enoch 48:4. Allusions to Isaiah appear in several key texts on Luke/Acts (Like 2:32, Acts 1:8, 13:47, 26:18, 23). In each case, Gregerman sees the use of Isaiah as a justification for missionary activity among the Gentiles, on contrast to the use of the passage in contemporary Judaism. For Luke, “there is nothing accidental about the gentile mission, this was God’s will all along” (215).

Conclusion. This collection stands as a contribution to our understanding of how the writers of the New Testament used the Hebrew Bible in creative and sometimes unexpected ways as they sought to explain how Jesus related to earlier Scripture. It is clear from these essays that the Gospel writers used Scripture in ways which are consistent with the Second Temple Period even if they are only interested in Jesus and his ministry.


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

Book Review: Craig A. Evans and H. Daniel Zacharias, eds., “What Does the Scripture Say?” (LNTS 469) – Part 1.1

Evans Craig A. and H. Daniel Zacharias, eds., “What Does the Scripture Say?”: Studies in the Function of Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity: Volume 1, The Synoptic Gospels. LNTS 469; Studies in Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013. Hb; Pb; Logos $31.99  Link to Bloomsbury T&T Clark    Link to Logos

[Due to the length of this review, I will break each volume into two posts:  Volume 1, part 1, volume 1, part 2, volume 2 part 1, volume 2, part 2].

Craig A. Evans and H. Daniel Zacharias edited this two-volume collection of essays on the function of Scripture presented at the Society of Biblical Literature’s Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity program unit in 2008 and 2009. Volume one collects essays on the Synoptic Gospels, the second volume will includes the Gospel of John, the epistles and liturgical tradition. For the most part, the papers in this collection deal with specific examples of “the use of the Old Testament in the New,” although many also use the literature of the Second Temple Period. These essays could also be described as intertextual studies and some of the authors make use of this language despite the imprecision of the word.

Evans LNTS 469In “’Fasting’ and ‘Forty Nights’: The Matthean Temptation Narrative (4:1–11) and Moses Typology” Daniel M. Gurtner argues Matthew has used a Moses-motif to connect Jesus’ fasting for “forty days and forty nights.” The primary question raised here why “fasting” was expanded to include “and forty nights”? Commentators have suggested Matthew was influenced by Exod 34:28 or Deut 9:9, but Gurtner argues Matthew has drawn from Moses texts in which he is presented not as the “Law-giver” but as the “Law-receiver” or mediator (4). After surveying the fasting passages in Exodus and Deuteronomy along with the Second Temple literature, Gurtner concludes Matthew intended to draw attention to Moses as a mediator since the Gospel presents Jesus as the mediator of the Law.

Christopher N. Chandler explores the use of Leviticus 19:18 in the New Testament and Second Temple period (“Love Your Neighbour as Yourself” (Leviticus 19:18b) in Early Jewish-Christian Exegetical Practice and Missional Formulation”).  Chandler suggests the common view of God among Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots, etc. was that God is a God of judgment punishes Israel’s enemies. Jesus, on the other hand, teaches his disciples to love one’s (Roman) enemies (cf. Matt 5:43–48/Luke 6:27–36). Chandler suggests Jesus was aware of the way the “love your neighbor” saying was applied to the judiciary. Jesus applied the command to his advocacy of “Israel’s mission to include Gentiles in the kingdom.” The missional nature of Matt 5:43–44 is often overlooked, but if Chandler is right and the “enemy” to be loved specifically to Gentiles, then there are some implications for both for understanding the teaching of the historical Jesus as well as for Matthew’s theme of mission to the Gentiles (27).  He examines Matt 5:43–44 and the prodigal son parable in Luke 15 and concludes both express love for the enemy, the Gentile, even the Roman occupation.

In “Rest, Eschatology and Sabbath in Matthew 11:28–30: An Investigation of Jesus’ Offer of Rest in the Light on the Septuagint’s Use of Anapausis,” Elizabeth Talbot surveys the uses of the anapausis word group in the LXX and suggests three potential groundings for the call to rest in Matt 11. In Sirach wisdom is personified and invites people to draw near (ἐγγίσατε πρός με in Sir 51:23; “Come to me” (προσέλθετε πρός με) in Sir 24:19). This observation should highlight Jesus as a wisdom teacher, but Sirach present the invitation in the first person as Jesus does. A second potential grounding of the saying is Exod 33:14. In response to Moses’s prayer is that he may know the Lord (Exod 33:12, 13) God promises Moses that “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exod 33:14). A third potential grounding of the saying is the strong eschatological context based on the promise of rest from enemies in 2 Samuel 7:11 (cf. 1 Chr 22:9; Ezek 34:15). Combined with an allusion to Jer 6:16, this eschatological rest includes purification. Her conclusion is that “Jesus can be seen as the embodiment and fulfillment of the eschatological Messianic rest typified by the Sabbath and proclaimed by Wisdom” (69).

Alicia D. Myers examines “Isaiah 42 and the Characterization of Jesus in Matthew 12:17–21.” Scholarship usually assumed the use of Isaiah 41 in Matthew 12 reflected a “suffering servant theme,” although this has been abandoned recently. Myers neither avoids servant imagery in Matthew 12 nor does she attempt to force it into a “Son of God” Christology. This is not an either/or question for Myers, the citation of Isaiah “reinforces Matthew’s overarching characterization of Jesus as God’s divinely appointed ideal king who was sent to vivify God’s will on earth” (72).  Scholars almost universally interpret the “bruised reed” alongside the “smoldering wick” as the marginalized people in Jesus’ ministry who receive compassion and healing (12:15–16), but Myers argues these metaphors refer to Herod as “an impotent ruler—a useless ‘bruised reed’ and ‘smoldering wick’” (84). Herod is not the one who is in power, but rather Jesus is the spirit-filled servant who will crush “faltering and impotent kings” like Herod in order to establish God’s justice on earth. Matthew’s use of Isaiah 42 therefore reinforces an eschatological view of Jesus.

In “Blood and Secrets: The Re-telling of Genesis 1–6 in 1 Enoch 6–11 and Its Echoes in Susanna and the Gospel of Matthew,” Catherine Sider Hamilton compares several Second Temple texts to Matthew in order to offer a solution to the problematic declaration “let his blood be on our heads” (Matthew 27:25). Sider argues Matthew created a narrative in which innocent blood forms “an ancient and constant progression” beginning with the blood of Abel and looking forward to a final judgment and restoration. “It is a narrative to which the problem of blood poured out upon the land” (139). Pilate’s words echo Daniel at the climax of Susanna. By reading the motif of “innocent blood” in Matthew within the world of this Jewish literature, “stark divisions implied in such categories as ‘anti-Jewish’ lose their heuristic value” (92).

Sider argues Matthew alludes to Susanna when Pilate saw a riot was beginning and he washed his hands before the crowd saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this man” (ἀθῷός εἰμι ἀπὸ τοῦ αἵματος τούτου, Matt 27:24). In Susanna’s trial, when she is condemned to death, Daniel says “I am innocent of the blood of this woman” (καθαρὸς ἐγὼ ἀπὸ τοῦ αἵματος ταύτης, Sus θ 46). Most note the allusion without comment, but Sider observes that after Daniel’s protest against shedding of Susanna’s innocent blood, “the whole people turns to him in dismay” (125). The shedding of innocent blood is also a major theme in 1 Enoch 9 “five of the seven words in this phrase in Matthew and in 1 Enoch are the same: αἷμα ἐκχυννόμενον ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς and Matthew is closer to 1 Enoch than Q. In addition, Both Matthew and 1 Enoch link this blood poured out to the blood of Abel” (133). Sider provides detailed argument that the Book of the Watchers is thoroughly immersed in Gen 1-4. 1 Enoch and Susanna are therefore both meditations on the creation story and both focus on the motif shedding of innocent blood. This innocent blood corrupts the world and results in a cleansing judgment. She argues the intellectual tradition represented by 1 Enoch 6–11 is a way of understanding the world through the lens of creation, corruption and purification.

Part two of the review.

Book Review: Bruce Waltke, The Psalms as Christian Lament: A Historical Commentary

Waltke, Bruce K., James M. Houston, Erika Moore. The Psalms as Christian Lament: A Historical Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2014. 328 pp., Pb., $28.00.  Link to Eerdmans

This book is a follow-up to The Psalms as Christian Worship (Eerdmans, 2010). Like the previous volume, the goal of The Psalms as Christian Lament is to provide an “informed historical-theological-pastoral insights into ten lament psalms” in which the others who provide a basis for a “theology of lament.” In order to achieve this goal, each chapter begins with a short history of interpretation before turning to an exegetical study of the Psalm. Sometimes this historical study includes a single scholar, other times there are several are included.

Psalms as LamentWhy study these particular Psalms? As the authors point out in their introduction, Christians often struggle with the idea of lament. Our worship tends to be positive and uplifting, only rarely does a congregation offer a lament to the Lord as a form of worship. Yet the Psalter includes many worship songs in which the psalmist cries out before the Lord, lamenting their suffering and oppression. According to the introduction, there are forty-two individual laments and another sixteen corporate laments. This means lament is one of the dominating genres in the Psalter.

The book studies ten lament psalms, including six of the seven traditional penitential psalms (Psalm 51 appears in the previous volume). Each chapter begins by listening to the “voice of the church.” This section James Houston selects one or more ancient commentary on the Psalm as an example of how the Psalm was read at various points in church history. By examining the range of ancient and medieval writers on the following list, it seems clear the examples were chose to provide various kinds of commentary on the Psalms. There is both chronological and theological diversity in the chosen commentators. Houston does not quote the historical commentaries at length, so in this sense the book is not the same sort of tool as the Ancient Christian Commentaries (InterVarsity Press). After introducing the writer and placing him in historical context, Houston focus on how the individual writer drew theological implications from the Psalm under examination.

  • Psalm 5 and Jerome.
  • Psalm 6 and Gregory of Nyssa.
  • Psalm 7 and Chrysostom, Charlemagne, Alcuin and Alfred the Great.
  • Psalm 32 and Augustine.
  • Psalm 38 and Ambrose, Augustine, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Cassiodorus and several medieval penitential commentaries.
  • Psalm 39 and Erasmus.
  • Psalm 44 and Origin, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin.
  • Psalm 102 and Catholic vs. Reformed/Evangelical repentance.
  • Psalm 130 and Hilary of Poiters and John Owen.
  • Psalm 143 and Augustine, a few medieval penitential commentaries and John Calvin.

After this historical section, for nine of the chapters Bruce Waltke provides a new translation of the psalm with textual notes on syntax and textual variants. Erika Moore provides the translation and exegesis for Psalm 39. After his translation, Waltke sets the literary context of the Psalm by observing canonical links to nearby Psalms. For example, Psalm 32 has a number of lexical and thematic links to Psalm 31, implying the two Psalms could be read together. This juxtaposition in the canon of the Psalter can provide some insights for interpretation. In addition to literary context, Waltke comments briefly on Form Critical approaches to the Psalm. For the most part this is a short note explaining why the Psalm is a lament or penitential Psalm. Waltke also briefly comments on “Rhetorical Criticism,” by which he means the structure of the Psalm (stanza, strophe, etc.) Sometimes these are summed up into a single section on “form and structure;” the headings are inconsistent in the book. In the final section before the commentary he provides a very short summary, the “message of the Psalm.”

In the body of the commentary Waltke proceeds more or less verse-by-verse based on the structure of the Psalm outlined in his Rhetorical Criticism section. This is a technical, exegetical commentary and Hebrew appears in the body of the commentary often untransliterated. I noticed Moore’s commentary on Psalm 32 Hebrew always transliterated. The body of the commentary runs ten-twelve pages on average, a few are longer. Since commentaries on the Psalms are usually sparse in exegetical detail and nuance, I am very pleased with Waltke’s exegesis of the Hebrew Bible.

Conclusion. Like the previous volume, The Psalms as Christian Lament: A Historical Commentary will appeal to many Christians who want to read the Hebrew Bible through the lens of some of the greatest exegete of the Church. Although it does not provide access to the original commentaries of these ancient writers, the summaries will give most readers a sense of how Christians have approached Psalms of laments at various times in history.

However, I think the organization of the chapters could be improved. I would have preferred to have the historical material after the exegetical section. To my way of thinking, I prefer to have a solid idea of what the Hebrew text actually says before encountering how it was understood later in Church history. Placing the historical section first cannot help by color the reading of the Psalm, perhaps obscuring the meaning of the text as it appears in the Hebrew Bible. To be fair, the book is subtitled A Historical Commentary; any reader who shares my suspicion of Reception Criticism can simply read the sections in reverse order.

Reading how a particular Psalm was understood by the later church is important and I appreciate these sections (especially since church history is not my specialty). This project makes me wonder of a similar book could be written which focuses on the Psalms as Jewish Scripture. I would be very interested in reading a commentary which has the same level of exegetical rigor but traces the reception of selected Psalms through the Second Temple Period (including the New Testament), then beyond the Second Temple Period into medieval Jewish exegesis. I know bits and pieces of this exist, but I know of nothing like this single readable volume for Jewish exegesis.

The Psalms as Christian Lament is an excellent contribution to the study of the Psalms if only for Waltke’s exegetical comments. That the Christian history of interpretation is included is a bonus.

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: Walter Kaiser, Tough Questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament

Kaiser, Walter. Tough Questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2015. 176 pp. Pb; $16.99.   Link to Kregel

First-time readers of the Old Testament are often shocked by the grittiness of some of the stories, especially those in which God commands actions which seem ungodly. The most obvious example of this is the command to destroy Jericho and kill every man, woman and child in the city. This “holy war” is difficult for Christians to understand since Jesus blessed the peacemakers and Paul command his readers to not seek revenge on one’s enemies. The “Angry God” passages in the Old Testament are especially problematic use of similar language in modern fundamentalist Islam. Is a difference between the language of Deuteronomy 7 and 20 and the rhetoric of ISIS when they call for jihad against the west? How are we to handle these difficult texts?

Tough QuestionsWalter Kaiser offers some suggestions for this kind of question in his Tough Questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament. Kaiser wrote Towards an Old Testament Ethic (Zondervan, 1991) and contributed to Hard Sayings of the Bible (IVP, 1996). This new book is an update and expansion on these earlier works.

The two chapters of the book concern the problem of God’s wrath and the command to destroy the Canaanites. Kaiser points out the Old Testament describes God as both gracious and wrathful. These two sets of attributes are not contradictory: God is neither a god of love nor a god of hate. The Old Testament describes God as “slow to anger” and not as a capricious, vicious, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser (alluding to Richard Dawkins’s famous description). Kaiser says one of the greatest comforting facts about God is that he really does care about creation and his people. Because of his great love and compassion, his equally great wrath is sometimes necessary (p. 24).

He covers several other apparent contradictory teachings in the Old Testament. For example, God seems to permit polygamy while commanding monogamy?  While it was never God’s intention, polygamy does appear in the Old Testament. It is not endorsed or encouraged, and the New Testament makes monogamy quite clear. A second potential contradiction reflects a New Testament reading of the Old, “Is God a God of Grace or a God of Law?” Here Kaiser describes the principles of the law as good and the God-centered ethic of the Old Testament as a model for “personal holiness” (p. 85-6). Although he references both Dispensational and Covenant theology, I find his description dated (citing Ryrie, The Grace of God [1963] and Scofield) rather than more recent dispensationalists Kaiser knows very well having responded to papers collected in a progressive dispensational text.

One issue covered in the book is the extent of God’s knowledge. There some things in the Old Testament which make it appear as if God does not know the future. Here he is interacting with Open Theism, the idea God does not know the future because it has not happened yet. Kaiser affirms God’s omniscience by examining the typical evidence offered by Open Theists. Occasionally God expresses his knowledge using “perhaps” and occasionally he does not follow through on prophetically announced judgments because people repent (Jonah, for example). Kaiser argues these conditional prophecies do not “count against” God’s knowledge since the possibility of repentance was embedded in the prophecy in the first place.

Another very difficult issue for the modern reader is whether God elevates or devalues women. This particular chapter appeared in the Priscilla Paper (2005). He deals with two key verses in Genesis (2:18, 3:16) and shows these statements are far from devaluing for women if properly understood. He also points out the Old Testament allowed woman to serve in the Tabernacle and Temple (Exod 38:8, 1 Sam 2:22, although to be fair the women in 1 Sam 2:22 are not models of holiness!) From this basis he reads 1 Tim 2:8-15 as an affirmation that woman can lead in public prayers after they have been taught. For Kaiser, Paul’s “let a woman learn” was the real cultural bombshell in the Jewish or Roman world of the first century (p. 147).

Conclusion. This is a very readable introduction to difficult questions about the Old Testament and is aimed at a popular audience. Although there are few footnotes, there is a bibliography which will provide the interested reader with further resources on the major topics of the book. I do not find anything groundbreaking or new in the book. Kaiser’s goal seems to be to provide an update of his earlier (more academic) work in a popular format.

These short chapters are thoughtful, evangelical responses to very difficult questions Christian readers have when they read the Old Testament. Since each chapter ends with a few discussion questions this book would make a good resource for a ten-week Bible study or Sunday School Class. In fact, I would highly recommend this book for a serious Old Testament Bible study in conservative and evangelical churches.

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.

Book Review: G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd, Hidden But Now Revealed

Beale, G. K. and Benjamin L. Gladd.  Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2014. 392 pp. Pb; $27.00.   Link to IVP

Greg Beale is well-known for his work on the Old Testament in the New, including The Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Baker, 2007) and an important monograph on John’s Use of the Old Testament in Revelation (LNTS; London: T&T Clark, 1999). His commentary on Revelation in the NIGTC series was especially interested in allusions to the Old Testament in the book of Revelation. Ben Gladd published his Wheaton dissertation as Revealing the Mysterion: The Use of Mystery in Daniel and Second Temple Judaism with Its Bearing on First Corinthians (BZNW; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008). Their new book Hidden but Now Revealed is popular presentation of the findings of these more technical works as well as an opportunity for both scholars to revisit the idea of mystery in the New Testament. There are several sections of this book which are dependent on their early published works, especially Beale’s Temple and the Church’s Mission (NSBT 17, 2004).

Beale, HiddenIn the introduction of the book the authors deal with the problem of intertextuality. By this term the authors refer to inner-biblical allusions. The term intertextuality has become “faddish” (22) and is usually not well defined. They do however review Richard Hays’s criteria for detecting allusions to the Old Testament in the New Testament. As Beale has said a number of other contexts, recognizing allusions more of an art than an exact science. This is an important issue for Beale and Gladd since the will argue the use of the word “mystery” in the New Testament often alludes to the book of Daniel.

The book begins with a survey of the use of mystery in Daniel. Beale and Gladd argue “the revelation of mystery is not a totally new revelation but the full disclosure of something that was to a significant extent hidden” (33).  Earlier studies on mystery emphasized the complete hiddenness of the revelation. The main proposal of this book is the suggestion a mystery refers to something that was always present but veiled or unknowable in some very real way.

The example the authors use is Nebuchadnezzar’s vision in Daniel 2. Nebuchadnezzar was given a revelation in a dream, but he did not remember it. Daniel reveals the mystery to the king because God has made it known to him. The revelation unveiled by Daniel refers to hidden end time events (34). The second example of a mystery is Daniel’s own visions. He receives a cryptic revelation which must be interpreted by angelic message (for example, 8:19-26). The third example is Daniel’s realization the seventy years of captivity were over while he was reading the book of Jeremiah. God revealed the duration of the exile to Jeremiah and Daniel observes what God revealed to the earlier prophet.

The authors argue the twofold structure of partial hiddenness and fuller revelation is what makes something a “mystery.” A revelation is “mostly hidden” but needs to be interpreted in order for the mystery to be fully known. Throughout the book Beale and Gladd use phrases like “mostly unknown” or “partially hidden.” If the mystery is unknowable until the time of the interpretation is given, I do not see how this is much different from the usual explanation of a mystery as unknowable until it is revealed. In each of the examples from Daniel, the content of the mystery is unknown to the reader until God choose to reveal it to Daniel.

As is expected in a biblical theology, the bulk of the book traces each use of mystery in the New Testament. The authors argue the term is most often used in eschatological contexts often coupled with allusions to Daniel. For example, there are six chapters devoted to the use of mystery in the Pauline letters. The letters are approached canonically rather than chronologically and include Ephesians and Colossians as examples of Pauline letters.

I will cite one example: In Romans 11:25, the mystery describes Gentile salvation and the restoration of Israel. Since this is a reversal of Jewish Old Testament expectations, it is not surprising Paul would label it a mystery. The authors detect an allusion to the book of Deut 32:21 in this passage is since that is the only place in the Old Testament where there is a reversal of the pattern “Gentile first, then the Jew.” For the authors, that Gentiles would be the catalyst of Israel salvation is “largely hidden in the Old Testament” (93). Mystery in Romans 16:25-26 is an allusion to Genesis 49:10. The unanticipated element of the earlier text is the Gentiles would yield themselves voluntarily to the messiah’s reign by the “obedience of faith” (96).

The authors see a twofold pattern in Paul’s use of mystery not present in the Old Testament. There is no clear prediction of a two-stage fulfillment of Jew and Gentile redemption. While there might have been hints, it was unknowable until Paul revealed it in the book of Romans.

I have two main questions about the argument of the book. I am curious about the motivation for the definition of mystery as something “hidden in a text” until revealed by God at a later time. The mystery of Gentile salvation apart from the Law, for example, does not seem to be found in any Old Testament text at all, a fact recognized by Beale and Gladd: “The Gentiles, Paul says, become full members of the covenant community only through faith in Christ (Gal 3:29). This is precisely the teaching Paul deems an unveiled mystery in Ephesians and Colossians and considers to be absolutely central to his ministry” (213).

But this particular use of mystery does not strike me as consistent with the definition drawn from Daniel. Some kind of Gentile salvation is clear from the Hebrew Bible, but their salvation apart from the Law is not even hinted at in the Old Testament. I am more inclined to read this as Paul claiming Gentile salvation apart from the Law was totally hidden prior to his mission and not to be found in the text of the Old Testament.  This mystery is  therefore most like Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, unknown until God revealed it to him and called him to his mission to the Gentiles.

I suspect the motivation for their view of mystery is to enhance the continuity between the Testaments so that the present age (which is called a mystery in Paul) can be seen as part of God’s plan of salvation. In fact, late in this this book Beale and Gladd refer to inaugurated eschatology (already/not yet) which is so pervasive in the New Testament (and NT scholarship) as a mystery (296-7).

My second question is more along the lines of method. Is the use of the word μυστήριον consistent between the various writers of the New Testament? Does Matthew’s plural use of the word (τὰ μυστήρια τῆς βασιλείας τῶν οὐρανῶν) have the same nuance of meaning as Paul’s use in Ephesians 3:3? Should the “mystery or godliness” in 1 Tim 3:16 be read as a “hidden in the Old Testament until revealed”?  It seems to me “hidden until unlocked” is forced into 1 Tim 3:16. In Revelation 1:19-20 the “mystery” is not hidden in the Old Testament, unless the reader applies Beale’s “church as the eschatological Temple” view. While there is much in his The Temple and the Church’s Mission I find attractive, it seems forced into Revelation 1:19-20 in order to make mystery always mean “hidden until unlocked.” Likewise the use of mystery in Revelation 17 seems different than the others, especially if the word appears on the head of the Great Whore.

These caveats aside, Hidden But Now Revealed is an excellent example of the practice of biblical theology. Beale and Gladd have assembled a great deal of data which is extremely helpful for understanding the context of each example of μυστήριον in the New Testament. Their conclusions are for the most part drawn from the text of the Bible, although there are some places where I think Beale’s view of the “church as temple” have skewed the data.

This book should set the agenda for discussions of mystery for years to come.

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.  I am preparing a longer review-article for a journal and will post a link when it is published.

Book Review: Robert H. Gundry, Peter: False Disciple and Apostate

Gundry, Robert H. Peter: False Disciple and Apostate according to Saint Matthew. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 139 pp. Pb; $20.   Link to Eerdmans   Video of a lecture Gundry gave at Westmont on the topic of this book.

This short study by Robert Gundry makes the somewhat surprising claim that Matthew considered Peter to be a “false disciple and apostate.” In the introduction to the book Gundry makes his motivations clear. This is not an anti-Catholic book and he is not interested in subverting any traditions about Peter. Nor is he interested in the “historical Peter,” assuming a history of Peter’s life could be written. Gundry’s project is strictly limited to the presentation of Peter in Matthew’s gospel only.

Gunrdy, PeterIn order to reach this conclusion, Gundry analyzes every appearance of Peter in the Gospel of Matthew. By way of method, Gundry employs redaction criticism in order to show Matthew edited Mark’s narrative to present Peter as an example of a disciple who was very close to Jesus but ultimately failed to follow through on his commitment to Jesus. In the end, Peter is left “outside in the darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Gundry’s use of redaction criticism is well-known from his commentaries on Matthew and Mark, therefore many will pre-judge some of his comments based on his method alone.

After a short introductory chapter on method, Gundry’s second chapter surveys all of these texts prior to the climactic confession of Peter in Matthew 16. Peter is not presented in these texts as a model of faith, in fact, the famous story in Matt 14:22-33 does not demonstrate Peter’s faith, but his lack of faith. The story of Peter’s request to walk on the water is not found in the other Gospels. Matthew therefore chose to report the words of Peter, “If you are Jesus (14:28) in similar language to the devil in the Temptation (4:3, 6). The other disciples in the boat confess Jesus as God’s son and worship him, but Peter is not included in that group (12).

In Matthew 16:13-32 Jesus seems to call Peter to be the leader of his church. Gundry therefore examines this pericope in detail in chapter 4. By confession Jesus is the Messiah, Peter is “playing catch-up” since the other disciples have already done so in 14:33 (16). The real issue in Matt 16 is Jesus calling Peter “the rock.” Gundry argues the “rock” refer to the words of Jesus, recalling Matt 7:24, the wise man builds his house on the rock.”  The bedrock in Matt 7:24 is clearing the words of Jesus (μου τοὺς λόγους τούτους). Peter himself is cannot be the “foundation of the church” since the church will be built on the teaching of Jesus. He is the one teacher (Matt 23:8) and the disciples will be commissioned to disciples the nations by teaching them everything Jesus has taught (Matt 28:20). The “keys to the kingdom” and “binding and loosing” both refer to teaching Jesus’ words, not the words of Peter as the successor of Jesus. The disciples are to convey Jesus’ words, not interpret them (25).

After Peter’s confession, Jesus reveals he will die in Jerusalem (Matt 16:21). Peter rebukes Jesus for this prediction (16:22). The brazenness of this rebuke is often lost in translation, but disciples do not rebuke their masters in the ancient world. Peter not only rebukes, but Matthew uses a double-negation plus a future indicative, the strongest negation in Greek. Jesus calls Peter Satan and a snare. Again, this stinging counter-rebuke is often translated to put Peter in a good light, but Matthew uses σκάνδαλον, a temptation to sin. In Matthew, Jesus has already said anyone who causes others to sin (πάντα τὰ σκάνδαλα) will be thrown into the fiery furnace where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (13:41-42). For Matthew, all “σκάνδαλα belong in hell” (30).

At Capernaum

At Capernaum

Chapter 4 traces several appearances of Peter in Matt 17-26, from transfiguration to the Garden of Gethsemane. Most of these are examples of “redactionally anti-Petrine moves by Matthew” (40). In Matt 19:27-30, when Peter responds to Jesus’ “camel through the eye of a needle saying, Matthew adds “what therefore will we have?” (τί ἄρα ἔσται ἡμῖν;). This future expectation of reward is not in the parallel in Mark or Luke. For Gundy, this is evidence Matthew is presenting Peter as “angling for present compensation” (39).

Gundry argues Peter’s denial of Christ is a parallel to Judas’s betrayal and suicide (chapter 5). He carefully examines the details of Peter’s denial, demonstrating Matthew’s modifications of Mark show Peter has apostatized. Matthew has redacted Mark in order to demonstrate the gravity of Peter’s denials. Peter swears with an oath (καὶ πάλιν ἠρνήσατο μετὰ ὅρκου, 26:72). In a passage unique to Matthew, Jesus states his disciples should not take oaths. For Gundry, this is flagrant disobedience to the Lord’s commands. By verse 74, Peter begins “to curse and swear,” another redaction by Matthew in order to highlight Peter’s apostasy; Matthew changes Mark’s ἀναθεματίζω to καταθεματίζω and drops “on himself” from Mark 14:71. In Mark, Peter is cursing himself, in Matthew he is cursing others (49-50).

Peter obviously denies his Lord, but most commentators are adamant Peter is restored after the resurrection. His bitter weeping is usually understood as a demonstration of his great remorse in contrast to Judas’s suicide. Gundry lists two dozen statements from various commentaries which try to rehabilitate Peter and offers a short response for each. For Gundry, the “bitter weeping” indicates Peter is an apostate who has in fact move into the darkness, “where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

In to this evidence, addition, there are a number of places in Matthew where Peter’s name is omitted. Chapter 6 examines these “non-appearances” of Peter and argues they represent Matthew dropping Peter because he is an example of a false disciple. For example, in Mark 16:8 the angels tell the women to go and tell the “disciples and Peter.”

Chapters 7-8 develop two threads Gundry has traced in this book as well in his commentary on Matthew. First, Gundry gathers more than twenty texts in Matthew describing false discipleship and concludes both Peter and Judas are quintessential false disciples (88). Just one example: In the Wedding Banquet parable (Matt 22:1-14) scholars are often perplexed by the unprepared man in the second part of the story. For Gundry, this man is a professing disciple who is marked as a false disciples because of his lack of wedding clothes (79). Like Peter, this man is one of the many who were called but not chosen and will remain outside, where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The second theme Gundry traces is flight from persecution in Matthew. He examines (briefly) eight pericopae in which those who flee persecution are condemned.  A false disciple is exposed when there is persecution. Like Peter’s betrayal, the false disciple will show themselves and deny Jesus publically.

In his final chapter Gundry makes a few suggestions based on the texts surveyed in the book. He speculates a gospel presenting Peter as an apostate could not be written after his martyrdom, so his argument for Peter as a false disciple implies an early date for the writing of Matthew. A corollary he does not mention is dating Matthew to before A.D. 70 pushes the date for Mark/Q perhaps a decade earlier.

A second implication is more speculative. Like many scholars, Gundy associates Matthew with Syrian Antioch. Galatians 2:11-14 describes a face-to-face confrontation between Paul and Peter. Gundry gently suggests Matthew reflects a situation where Paul won his argument with Peter. He recognizes this echoes the old Tübingen school, but it “may call for further investigation” (103).

Conclusion. A book entitled Peter: False Disciple and Apostate will naturally generate a great deal of interest since Peter is beloved as the first leader of the Christian church. This is certainly true in the Catholic tradition, but evangelical pastors love to preach about thick-headed Peter, a simple man used by Jesus to found the Church. Doubtless many will point to John 21 as a “restoration of Peter,” but that is John’s story and not Matthew’s. Gundry has delimited his topic to only Matthew’s Gospel, so the “restoration” of Peter in the other gospels or tradition does not matter to him.

But it is true the Gospel of Mark also fails to mention a restoration of Peter. Although Luke describes Peter as a leader in the Jerusalem church, people are suspicious of his escape from prison in Acts 12. After this event, Peter is hardly mentioned in Acts and seems to have been supplanted by James, the Lord’s brother. It just might be the case Peter is not as important to the foundational level of the Church as tradition has made him out to be.

Peter: False Disciple and Apostate is a brief but extremely well-researched book that argues a single point in a short 100 pages. Gundry makes his case well, although it is a case many will find jarring. Although I imagine the book will cause much “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” the book will set the agenda for Matthean theology for years to come.


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: Bradley G. Green, Covenant and Commandment

Green, Bradley G. Covenant and Commandment: Works, Obedience and Faithfulness in the Christian Life. NSBT 33; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2014. 208 pp. Pb; $22.   Link to IVP

In this new contribution to the NSBT series, Bradley G. Green (PhD, Theology, Baylor University) explores the role of works as a necessary part of salvation. In his introduction, Green acknowledges most evangelicals recognizes sola fide, salvation is by grace apart from works, but the role of works after salvation is less clear. Green argues in this book that works are necessary for salvation because “part of the newness of the new covenant is actual, grace-induced and grace elicited obedience by true members of the new covenant” (17). Real and meaningful obedience flows from the cross as part of the promised blessings of the new covenant and is “sovereignly and graciously elicited by the God of the Holy Scripture” (19).

Green, CovenantIn order to make this argument, Green first examines the New Testament texts which discuss the reality and necessity of works, obedience and faithfulness (chapter 1). He identifies fourteen key groups of texts and briefly summarizes the categories as a foundation for understanding the way the New Testament uses the Old with respect to works and faithfulness (chapter 2). Green argues there is continuity between the Old and New Covenants with respect to obedience, but the New Covenant includes “Spirit induced, God-caused obedience” (54). For Green the New Covenant foreseen by Jeremiah and Ezekiel is initiated by Jesus at the Cross.

In his third chapter, Green expands on the unity between the Old and New Covenant within the history of redemption. While some forms of Covenant theology assumes continuity and Dispensational theology often assumes discontinuity, Green argues reducing the discussion to either continuity or discontinuity misses the point of historical-redemptive nature of the canon. Following the work of Henri Blocher, Green argues there is real spiritual power in the Old Covenant that can provide an overarching unity between the Old and New Covenants. While all are saved by God’s grace as manifest in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, Green thinks Old Testament saints experience that grace proleptically (59).

This view of Old Testament faith naturally calls into question the classic Reformation dichotomy between Law and Gospel. Here Green follows John Frame by arguing that God saves people by his grace “across the canon of Scripture,” but once people are in a covenant relationship with him, God then gives his people commands and expects those people to obey him (65). But Green has to deal with texts like Galatians 3:10-12, which creates a strong contrast between Law and grace. He argues the problem in Gal 3:12 is not the Law itself, but the approach to the Law advocated by Paul’s opponents. For Paul, true righteousness is by faith and the law was never intended as a “way of justification” before God (71).

In chapter 4 Green describes the relationship between the cross the reality of works, obedience and faithfulness. He surveys a number of New Testament texts and concludes the cross leads to human transformation and sanctification. The leads to the thorny issue of imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer, although Green does not really develop the issue nor does he engage the objections of N. T. Wright to the doctrine of imputation. He concludes the believer receives righteousness (imputation) and is justified by faith alone. Later in the book Green states “we should continue to affirm imputed righteousness vigorously, and that we need an imputed and perfect righteousness that is ours by faith apart from works (101). While I agree with Green’s conclusions here, he needs to interact with both sides of the debate on imputation. Citing a series of Reformed writers in support of imputation does not deal with Wright’s objections to imputation, nor do I find his summary statements compelling. Part of the problem is this is only a brief chapter rather than a monograph on imputation, but some awareness of the larger theological discussion would have been helpful.

For Green, the best way to understand the role of works and salvation is Paul’s emphasis on the believer’s union with Christ (chapter 5). Citing Todd Billings, Green argues union with Christ is “theological shorthand for the gospel itself” (99). There is far more to be said on identification with Christ in Paul, Green can only cover six passages in as many pages. Again, the brevity of this chapter hinders a fuller presentation of the data from Paul. There is reference to Constantine Campbell’s excellent monograph Paul and Union with Christ (Zondervan, 2012), although this may simply a matter of Green completing his book before Campbell’s appeared.

In chapter 6 Green deals with a sometimes problematic issue, justification and future judgment according to works. As he does throughout the book, he briefly surveys seven pertinent texts and then the history of interpretation of the texts. Green discusses John Calvin, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, Geerhardus Vos, Richard Gaffin, Simon Gathercole, and Greg Beale and N. T. Wright (curiously labeled an “excursus”), and then concludes the chapter by citing Augustine at length. Green concludes that evangelicals should affirm a future aspect to justification as well as a future judgment according to works (142), but also that our future judgment is based on your union with Christ and our identity as “persons who are ‘in Christ’” (144).

Finally, Green discusses three related topics which touch on the issue of works and salvation (chapter 7). First, he interacts again with Henri Blocher on the headship of Adam and the so-called covenant of works sometimes considered to be essential for the Gospel in Covenant theology. Green suggests by using a “covenant of works” schema, works become a merit system for salvation and something quite different than grace. A second issue in the chapter is the headship of Christ as the obedient one who kept the covenant. We obey because Christ obeyed, Green says (159). In the end, Green concludes inaugurated eschatology is key to understanding the “real but imperfect nature” of the believer’s good works (170).

Conclusion. While role of works for those coming to salvation and in the coming future judgment have often been the topics of discussion of New Testament theology, Green’s book fills a gap by focusing on the role of works in the ongoing life of the believer. His emphasis on the cross and grace-enabled good works in the life of the believer is a helpful correction to sweeping statements concerning the ongoing role of good works in the life of the believer. I find the brevity of the chapters frustrating, especially when exegesis of Scripture is too brief. Occasionally I thought historic and contemporary (usually reformed) theologians dominated the discussion, especially in chapter 6. This is certainly a case of “that’s not the book I would write” and should not distract from the value of Green’s book.


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.