Acts 6-8 – A New Tradition?

Philip The DeaconIn 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?

Book Review: James D. G. Dunn, The Acts of the Apostles

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 Dunn-Acts-of-the-Apostlescommentary 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.

Book Review: Bandy and Merkle, Understanding Prophecy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Book Review: Allen and Linebaugh, Reformation Readings of Paul

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Book Review: Richard Horsley, The Prophet Jesus and the Renewal of Israel

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.

Horsley, The Prophetic JesusIn 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.

NB: Eerdmans has a nice interview with Horsley talking about the book on YouTube. I bought this book myself, but this did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Galatians 2:11-14 – The Antioch Incident

Galatians 2:11-14 describes a serious confrontation between Paul and Peter on the issue of table fellowship with Gentiles. For Paul, what Peter does is hypocrisy, and what the “men from James” do is nothing short of a breach of their agreement in the earlier private meeting described in Gal 2:1-10.

First, a chronological note. James Dunn refers to the event Paul describes in Gal 2:11-14 as the “Antioch Incident.” Since 1980 he has produced a series of articles and reflections on the problem of Gal 2:11-14. (I am following his Beginning at Jerusalem (2009), §27.4). Dunn believes that the agreement of Acts 15 takes place before the Incident, which he believes is described by Paul in Gal 2:1-10. The Antioch Incident therefore takes place after Acts 15, Peter’s behavior as well as the influence of the men from James is a breach of the agreement of Acts 15 in this reconstruction. John Polhill has a similar order of events in Paul and his Letters (105-10).

Hypocrite-FaceI disagree with this sequence of events. In my view, the agreement reached in Gal 2:1-10 was a private meeting between Paul and James, perhaps parallel to Acts 11:30. Paul established churches throughout southern Galatia (Acts 13-14), and returned to Antioch. During this time he confronted Peter on the issue of table fellowship, apparently Barnabas also broke fellowship with Paul over the issue. About the same time Paul hears that “men from James” have infiltrated his churches and were teaching that Gentiles ought to be circumcised. He first writes a letter to his churches clarifying the issue (Galatians) and then he travels to Jerusalem to confront James on the issue of circumcision (Acts 15).

Whether the event is before or after the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), the Antioch Incident has some far-ranging ramifications for Paul.

First, it forces the issue of Gentile equality out into the open. No longer will a private meeting do, Paul must go to Jerusalem to meet publicly with all the parties involved (Acts 15). As long as Paul’s ministry remains limited or focused on Gentile God-Fearers within the synagogue, there is little problem. But Paul is now targeting Gentiles outside of the synagogue, making the status of Gentiles a major question.

Second, the incident may represent a break between Paul and the Antioch church. He continues his missionary efforts, eventually spending 18 months in Corinth and three years in Ephesus. By Acts 18, the center of Gentile mission shifts from Antioch to Ephesus, as is seen by the presence of many churches in the Lycus Valley by the end of the century.

Third, the incident points out what we already know about Paul from chapter 1, he is not under the authority of the Jerusalem Pillars. Paul is commissioned by the risen Lord directly and will not be told by men allegedly from James to change his gospel.

Why does the book of Acts not record the Antioch Incident? It is possible that Luke felt that his inclusion of the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15 was sufficient to summarize the problem of Gentile salvation. Luke likes to emphasize the unity of the church, so the incident at Antioch may have been passed over in order to highlight unity of the Jerusalem conference.

The New Perspective on Paul: Works of Righteousness

By the second century B.C., Jews were becoming increasingly Hellenistic. Some even turned away from the most basic of Jewish distinctives such as circumcision and food traditions. The literature of this period are not evangelistic tracts, they are aimed at the Jewish considering further Hellenization. A text like the Letter of Aristeas is aimed at keeping the young men from leaving their ancestral faith altogether! It is for this reason that characters from the Hebrew Bible like Joshua, Phineas, Levi and Simeon become popular – they fought back against assimilation with violence!

Jewish PersonA major factor in the development of Second Temple Period Judaism was the failure of Deuteronomic Theology. The Law seems to promise that if one keeps the covenant, then blessings will follow. The ultimate blessing is the hope for Jerusalem found in the Hebrew Bible, that it would truly become the center of the world and gentiles would flock to Mount Zion to worship the God of the Jews. If the Jews are keeping the law properly, why is it that their role is shrinking on the world stage? One reaction is to drop the cultural boundary markers, or downplay them considerably. The opposite reaction is to increase the commitment to these markers, to really and truly do the Law as it was meant to be done, and the few who do will be “saved” (i.e., the Qumran community and the author of 4 Ezra.)

To survive the exile, the Jews re-emphasized their religious traditions as embodied in the Torah. John Collins emphasized the following four key elements: Monotheism, Revelation, Election, and Covenant. Monotheism and Revelation are not good boundary markers (you have a God who reveals himself to you, so does everyone else!) All of the Jewish literature of this period clearly accepts as foundational : “God is One” and the Torah is his revelation.

Dictionary Series - Religion: JewElection and Covenant can be boundary markers. You can adequately define who was elected to participate in the covenant, who is “in” and who is “out” of the covenant. Most of the literature of this period asks this sort of question – in 1 Maccabees it is Sabbath, Circumcision and dietary Laws which are clear boundaries. In Jubilees1 Enoch and Qumran literature proper calendar is included as a boundary marker. In Sirach it is a life of wisdom that marks out the elect. E. P. Sanders’ conception of Second Temple period Judaism under the rubric of “covenantal nomism” is an application of these last two emphases. Election is what gets one into the Covenant, if you are Israel then you are “in.” What is it that maintains that relationship with God is the performance of the boundary markers: circumcision, Sabbath and food laws.

How does this impact Pauline theology? When Paul says “works of righteous,” the New Perspective on Paul hears “boundary markers,” not Torah. The traditional view would hear “The Whole Law.” Dunn uses Galatians 3:10-14 as a “test case” (“‘Works of the Law’ and the ‘Curse of the Law,’” pages in 215-36, Jesus, Paul and the Law). A traditional reading of this text would understand the statement “everyone under the Law is under a curse” in the light of the book of Deuteronomy and the curses and blessings. Not so, says Dunn, the “works of the Law” here ought to be read in the context of Galatians, circumcision and food traditions. These are the very things that make up the “boundary markers” of Second Temple Judaism. Michael Cranford has argued that the “works of the Law” as ethnocentric boundary markers ought to be applied to Romans 4 as well (“Abraham in Romans 4: The Father of All Who Believe,” NTS, 41 [1995], 71-88).

Rather than a polemic against the whole Law, Paul is stating that Gentiles who are “in Christ” cannot take on the boundary markers of Judaism. Does this mean that the New Perspective sees Paul as embracing the Law for Christians? Not really, it would seem strange to say that Paul was rejecting the boundary markers as unnecessary and dangerous, but embracing keeping the Torah. These things are not Pharisaical traditions added to the Law (the types of things that Jesus reacted against, for example). They are at the heart of what it means to be a Jew in the Second Temple period. New Perspective writers are emphasizing what Paul emphasized, that one’s status in Christ is what matters, not keeping traditional signs of separation.

Dunn’s view of “works” in Romans 4 as nationalistic boundary markers has not gone unchallenged. In a recent monograph (Paul and Judaism Revisited, IVP 2013), Preston Sprinkle summarized the problems with reading ethnocentric boundary markers in Rom 4, although he interacts mostly with Cranford’s 1995 article. Sprinkle argues that Paul’s use of “works” in Rom 4 refers to obedience in general, rather than the boundary markers (p. 153).  For Sprinkle, the metaphor of wages/reward does not really work if the “works” are limited to the ethnic boundary markers. Sprinkle may be correct, but it may be possible that the ethnic boundary markers are in view in Galatians but not in Romans.

In summary, the New Perspective has suggested that a reading of the “works of the Law” in Paul that is consistent with Second Temple Judaism limits those works to the ethnic boundary markers. These are the practices that separate Jews from Gentiles. Gentiles are not converting to Judaism, therefore they ought not be required to keep those boundary markers.

Book Review: James Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels

Dunn, James D. G.  Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2011. 201 pp. $21, pb. Link to Eerdmans

There have been a number of books on the relationship of Jesus and Paul published recently. For example, J. R. Daniel Kirk’s Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? addresses the embarrassment of Pauline theology in some quarters of the church. It is well known that some scholars (primarily Jewish, but some Christians) consider Paul the “founder of the church” and not Jesus. James Dunn’s new book is a contribution to this conversation.

This is a collection of nine essays connecting Jesus and Paul. Each was originally a paper delivered in 2008 and 2009 at various conferences celebrating Paul’s bimillennial year or other international seminars. Five of the nine chapters were addressed to Christian audiences, the other four to Jewish audiences.

Part one contains four essays on the Gospels, although two of the four would be better described as Historical Jesus studies. Dunn presents a much abbreviated form of the main thesis of his Jesus Remembered in the first two chapters, showing that much of the gospels are historically reliable as true memories of what Jesus did and said during his ministry. He rejects the so-called criterion of dissimilarity which states that the things Jesus said which are not like later Christian theology are more likely to be authentic. Dunn’s point is that it is unwise to assume Jesus had no impact on the thinking of his followers, the source for “later Christian theology” is most likely to be Jesus. He includes a chapter on the value of John’s gospel for the study of Jesus.

Part two is a single essay which argues that there is a close connection between Jesus and Paul. In this heart of the book Dunn tries to argue against the persistent characterization of Paul as a “second founder” of Christianity. This language is found as early as Wrede, but still turns up in more contemporary writers. Dunn lists several of the common contrasts one encounters in the literature: Jesus preached the Kingdom of God, Paul preached Jesus; Jesus’ message was primarily for Israel, Paul’s mission was to the Gentiles; Jesus was a local Jewish teacher, Paul was influenced by the religions and politics of his day.

Dunn answers these objections by tracing several unique teachings in Jesus which appear in Paul as well. Jesus’ message was that God’s kingdom was present in his ministry, and that kingdom was good news for sinners and the poor. Likewise, Paul taught that God is justifying sinners now, and that this salvation is good news for Gentile sinners. These comparisons revolve around the “eschatological tension” – we are already saved but we are not yet saved. In addition, Dunn finds the foundation for ethics in both Jesus and Paul to be the same: the law of love. There is no “gulf” between Jesus and Paul, and Paul certainly did not corrupt the simple message of Jesus (p. 115).

In general I agree with Dunn, but I think that the problem is defining “church.” If we think of the church as “what Paul was planting all over Europe in the book of Acts” (i.e., Gentile churches, not practicing the Law), then Paul has to be considered the founder of the Church “as we know it.” If by church we mean “those who are trusting in Jesus for salvation,” then Paul is not the founder at all since that type of church existed before Paul even recognized Jesus as Lord.

Part three contains four essays on Paul. The first two concern Paul’s self understanding: just who did Paul think he was? This section deals with Paul as a Jew. Did he really convert from Judaism to Christianity? Dunn collects the data which shows Paul continued to live as a Jew, he is far from an apostate who corrupted Jesus’ teaching.

This book is a good introduction to themes which are covered in much more detail in Jesus Remembered or Beginning at Jerusalem. The essays introduce ideas and hint at solutions, the details are in Dunn’s larger works. Even so, this is an enjoyable read for people interested in both Jesus and Paul.

What is “the Righteousness of God”? Romans 1:17

The original meaning of the δικ- word group was “that which was customary,” but was used to describe what was right in judicial cases.  It was used in the sense of “judgement, lawsuit, trial, and penalty.”  In the Greco-Roman world, the word was used for fairness in a court of law.  One was “righteous” if one behaved in accordance with Roman Law. One is righteous in the Greco-Roman usage of the word.

Judge's GavelBut the Greek Old Testament regularly translates the Hebrew word צַדִּיק (tzadik) with δικαιοσύνη.  This word can refer to both behavior and administrative justice, and to both individuals and to groups.  Occasionally the LXX translates חֶסֶד (hesed) with righteousness (Gen 20:13, for example).  It is hard to overestimate the importance of hesed in the theology of the Hebrew Bible. The word refers to the covenant loyalty of God who keeps his promises and does “loving kindness” toward his people.  The word “righteous” in the Hebrew Bible therefore refers to a proper relationship rather than a legal status. One does righteousness in the Hebrew Bible use of the word.

Is Paul using the word as a Jewish writer might, in the light of the Hebrew Bible, or is Paul using the word the way a Greek or Roman might?  The classic view of Paul is that he is developing a legal metaphor for salvation.  Justification means that the believer is “declared righteous” legally in God’s court; legally he is made righteous.  For example, according to Cranfield, there is “no doubt” that Paul means “to acquit” rather than moral transformation by this word group (Romans 1:95).

For many representatives of the New Perspective on Paul, however, this is a good example of a case where Paul’s Jewish background is important (for example, James Dunn, Romans 1:40). Paul does not necessarily want to evoke a Roman Court scene in the minds of his readers at all.  What he wants them to hear in the word is the character of God in the Hebrew Bible as righteous and faithful.

This is far from an arcane argument among biblical scholars hoping to sell a few books. This verse is the main theme of Romans – God’s righteousness is being revealed from heaven in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The rest of Romans is going to be an exposition of the righteousness of God.  If the traditional view is correct, then the focus of the gospel is on our legal declaration of righteousness. If Dunn and others are correct, we might read this line as saying “God’s covenant loyalty and faithfulness is being revealed.”  The Gospel is therefore about God’s character, the focus is on how he has acted in history to reveal his character.