In his Beginning at Jerusalem, James Dunn collects a number of elements which make up a “Hellenist Tradition” in Acts 6-8 (243-4). Dunn’s point is to show that Luke had a cohesive source for this section Acts since the material found here is markedly different than Acts 1-5. I agree with his evidence and think that Luke had a source for this section on Hellenistic ministry. In the following I summarize a few of Dunn’s points with some expansions.
As I observed in a previous post, language is an obvious difference. Diaspora Jews in Jerusalem for a pilgrimage may have gathered in the Synagogue rather than the Temple to read and study Scripture in Greek.
There is dissension in the church. Luke has repeatedly highlighted the unity and “one-mindedness” of the early community in Jerusalem, but now there is a serious rift between the two groups.
The Deacons are elected to their role by the Apostles. There is no indication of divine appointment, as was the case when Judas was replaced in chapter 1.
The Deacons appear to be active in the Synagogue (6:9) rather than the Temple. The Apostolic mission was based in the Temple courts.
Stephen is attacked by other Hellenists in the synagogue, not the Temple authorities. Specifically, Stephen is accused of repeating Jesus’ threat to destroy the Temple. More than that, Stephen is “changing the customs Moses delivered.” The Apostles are not accused of anything like this, rather they appear to be conforming to the Traditions since they continue to worship in the Temple.
There is a clear negative Temple-motif in Stephen’s speech (7:46-50 especially). This negative view of the Temple is not found in Peter’s sermons or the ministry of the Apostles.
God protected Peter and John when they were arrested, not so Stephen. He is lynched by an angry mob for his sermon in Acts 7. In contrast to the large number of converts after Peter’s sermons, Stephen has no converts and creates such tensions that even greater opposition develops.
I would add to this list that the ministry of Philip is Samaria is considerably different than the Apostolic mission. Peter and John are no longer preachers in the Temple, but elders who guard the Gospel against corruption. The Spirit moves beyond Jerusalem and a non-Apostle works miracles in Samaria.
What should we make of this evidence? While this anticipates my next post, I think that what we have here in Acts 6-8 is another strand of the early Jesus movement. The crowds which hear Peter preach in Acts 2 and 3 included both Hellenists and Hebraists, to use the language of Acts 6:1. While Luke is at pains to highlight the unity of the community in Acts 1-5, he does not hide the fact that there was some factionalism along cultural lines from the very beginning.
I do not think this a bad thing, the Gospel is going to be far more than a Jewish messianic sect. Luke has already told us the Gospel would go out to the whole world, beginning with Jerusalem and the diversity of Jewish belief and practice.
Is there more in Acts 6-8 that helps to support Dunn’s suggestion that this material is a drawn from a “cohesive source” that describes Hellenistic, Jewish ministry?
Dunn, James D. G. The Acts of the Apostles. Foreword by Scot McKnight. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 421 pp. Pb; $32. Link to Eerdmans
This is not a new commentary from Dunn, but a reprint of the 1996 Epworth commentary. Unfortunately the book has been out of print for many years and is often outrageously overpriced from some book sellers (this is not the case for any other out of print Epworth commentary as far as I can tell). I happened to buy my copy at a local store for a reasonable price, but for most the commentary has been inaccessible. Some material from that commentary ended up in Dunn’s Beginning at Jerusalem (Eerdmans, 2009).
When I published my Top Five Commentaries on the Book of Acts in 2012 I included Beginning at Jerusalem simply because it was more comprehensive and easer to purchase than the Epworth volume. With the reprinting of this commentary students of the book of Acts have access to a deceptively simple commentary on Acts. This is a commentary which provides what is necessary to understand the book of Acts without becoming overwhelmed a thousand details.
As McKnight says in his introduction, there are several massive commentaries available, including the exhaustive four-volume set by Craig Keener (Baker, 2012-2015). It is something of a shock to realize Dunn’s commentary is less than 10% of Keener’s page count, and Keener’s volumes are larger in page size. One might ask in the post-Keener world of Acts commentary, is anything left to say? Simply put, Dunn wrote before Keener was first published, so one might ask, was there anything left to say after Dunn? Although his commentary does not have the encyclopedic breadth of the Keener commentary, it is the sort of commentary a pastor or Bible teacher can use to prepare sermons and Bible studies. Dunn’s commentary is more like what commentaries looked like before publishers became willing to print 4000 pages on a book like Acts.
Every section begins on the same page as the earlier volume, so students will be able to check this new edition even if the older edition is cited. I noticed some very small differences in the typesetting where a single word or two at the end of a page runs over to the next, but this will not affect citation. After spot checking ten chapters late in the book, I noticed the copyright page indicates the book is retypeset and new maps added, but pagination is the same. In fact, this is neither a “second edition” nor a revised edition, it is a reprint of the original with very little change. The introduction is about a page longer (using Roman numerals), updating the bibliography to include many of the major commentaries which have appear since 1996.
In his brief introduction to commentary, Dunn recognizes Luke is a history, but not a history in the modern sense of the word. Luke went beyond simply reporting and passing along tradition; he felt free to elaborate, expand and interpret those traditions. This is not to say Luke has created unadulterated fiction. With respect to the speeches, Dunn concludes Luke followed the ancient conventions used by Thucydides and other historians. Like the Gospel of Luke, the theology of the book reflects early Christian preaching, but theology filtered through Luke’s unique concerns.
The body of the commentary progresses through the book in small units, sometimes a few verses other sections include whole paragraphs. His commentary is on the English text and he does not interact with the Greek at all. There are no footnotes or in-text citations in the commentary. This may be a cause for concern given recent plagiarism controversies, but this was the style of the original commentary. This makes for an extremely readable commentary. Since Dunn is not concerned with the minutiae of the text, one could read this commentary like a monograph. Although occasionally brief, Dunn using gives enough detail to help the reader make sense of what Luke is saying.
Conclusion. I agree with McKnight’s very brief forward to this volume recommending this short yet powerful commentary. Eerdmans is to be applauded for bringing this commentary back into print.
NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
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.
What 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.
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.
In 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.
Horsley, Richard. The Prophet Jesus and the Renewal of Israel: Moving Beyond a Diversionary Debate. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2012. 161 pp. Pb; $20.00. Link to Eerdmans
Richard Horsley is well known for his work on Historical Jesus. In this book he summarizes two issues perennially debated by Historical Jesus Scholars. First, Horsley does not find the dichotomy between “Jesus the apocalyptic prophet” and a “Jesus the sage” particularly helpful. Second, he does not think the focus of Historical Jesus scholars on the individual sayings of Jesus is the right method and has the result of obscuring Jesus’ actual teaching by narrowing down the teaching of Jesus to a series of “one-liners” disconnected from their literary context.
In the first section of the book, Horsley discusses the problem of an Apocalyptic Jesus. In the first chapter is gives a brief overview, summarizing the apocalyptic scenarios of Schweitzer and Bultmann, although his main target in this section is Dale Allison as a “reassertion of the apocalyptic Jesus.” The third chapter interacts with Allison’s Jesus of Nazareth extensively. Although his Constructing Jesus came out in 2010, Horsley apparently did not have access the extensive argument for an apocalyptic Jesus in the first chapter of that book. Horsley summarizes Allison’s argument under several headings (the eschatological judgment, resurrection from the dead, restoration of Israel, eschatological tribulation, and imminence). He then checks these categories against apocalyptic texts in Second Temple Judaism, discovering that there is very little evidence in these texts to support Allison’s categories. He blames this on the Jesus’ scholar’s “relative unfamiliarity with Judean texts” (39). Allison and others have, according to Horsley, imposed their assumptions about Jewish apocalypticism on to Jesus and therefore misunderstood his teaching.
There are several things in this first section I find problematic. His dismissal of those who read Jesus as standing in the tradition of Jewish apocalyptic as ignorant of Second Temple Judaism is simply not the case. What is at issue is the interpretation of these texts. Horsley is inclined read this literature as lacking an “apocalyptic scenario.” This is likely true if one expects to find a dispensational timeline of the tribulation period embedded in 1 Enoch or 2 Baruch. But I am not sure any Historical Jesus scholar thinks this way. The apocalyptic teaching of Jesus resonates with Second Temple Judaism, it does not conform to it. It is telling that Horsley cites Daniel extensively, but always leaves out Daniel 9, one of the texts best supporting an apocalyptic Jesus. In addition, he rarely deals with the eschatology of the Qumran Community, despite the fact that they can be fairly described as “apocalyptic.”
A second problem with this section is the idea than apocalyptic means “end of the world.” Horsley makes this explicit when he describes the eschatology of the Similitudes of 1 Enoch as “’imminent but not apocalyptic’ as the end of the world” (49). To me, this is a misunderstanding of Apocalyptic literature. This material does not describe the “end of the world as we know it” so much as the transformation of this present world into kingdom God intended from the beginning. (In fact, Horsley says something very close to this in an interview concerning the book. He would rather drop the description “apocalyptic” because it has come to mean “end of the world.”)
In the second section of the book, Horsley deals with the sources for understanding Jesus. In these chapters Horsley describes Jesus in the tradition of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. These prophets were social critics who challenged the status quo and were often in conflict with the governing authority. Rather than an apocalyptic prophet predicting the end of the world, Jesus was a revolutionary prophet who demanded social change. This led to a decisive confrontation with the authorities resulting in the execution of Jesus. Here Horsley builds on his previous work, first in describing the political volatility of first century Galilee and then by showing Jesus is consistent with several uprisings in the first century that eventually led to the first Jewish revolt.
He argues the sayings of Jesus must be taken in their literary contexts, with a heavy emphasis on the strata of Q. Horsley does not interact with recent proposals that dispense with Q, although in fairness some of these challenges have only been developed recently. In addition, this section of the book could be strengthened by some of the recent developments in memory theory and oral tradition (Dunn, Bauckham, LeDonne, etc.) I frankly found chapter 8 to be a bit dated, even though the book was published in 2012.
The last two chapters of the book are the best in my view. For Horsley, Jesus is a revolutionary prophet with the goal of reforming Israel around the Mosaic Covenant. Jesus wanted to renew Israel and call them back to covenant faithfulness in exactly the same way that the prophets of the Hebrew Bible did for Israel and Judah. Jesus and his followers were formed by “Israelite tradition, the deeply rooted memory of Moses and Joshua, the founding prophets of Israel in the events of the exodus and the coming into the land” (117). Everything Jesus did and said was designed to call to mind what Israel was meant to be in the first place; even his healings and exorcisms called to mind Elijah and Elisha.
Because he was leading a prophetic movement, Jesus naturally came into conflict with the ruling authorities, and this resulting in his execution (145). For Horsley, Jesus was a threat to the Roman Imperial order as well as the ruling Temple-state. Because he prophesied against the Temple during the Passover, the aristocratic priesthood moved against him. Jesus was “more than a raving ‘maniac’ uttering mournful laments of doom over Jerusalem,” he was understandably a threat to Rome and the ruling Temple-state, and he therefore became a “martyr to the cause of the renewal of Israel under the direct role of God” (149).
Conclusion. This short book is a good primer for reading Horsley. I have always found Horsley to be stimulating and thought provoking, and this book is exactly what I expected from him. But there is nothing particularly new in the book and there are numerous instances where he cites chapters in previous works for a more developed argument. Since the purpose of the book is in fact to highlight two problems and offer a brief solution, the book is successful. The reader is prodded towards other monographs and articles for the details.