Book Review: James Dunn, Neither Jew nor Greek: A Contested Identity

Dunn, James. Neither Jew nor Greek: A Contested Identity. Christianity in the Making, Volume 3. Grand Rapids, Mich. Eerdmans, 2016. 960 pp. Hb; $60.00. Link to Eerdmans

Neither Jew nor Greek completes Dunn’s three-volume project encompassing the New Testament. Jesus Remembered (2003) concerned Jesus and the Gospels, Beginning from Jerusalem (2009) covered the book of Acts and the letters of the New Testament up to 70 CE. This final volume tracks the later history of the early church (for the most part after 70 CE), including both canonical and non-canonical sources. Dunn ends his investigation just prior to Irenaeus, approximately 180 CE.

The title for the volume is significant since it signals Dunn’s conclusions about what the early church was like in the period after the first Jewish revolt. As Dunn puts it, whatever the early Christian movement was in the forty years between Jesus and the Jewish revolt “it was not yet ‘Christianity’” because Christianity as a distinct entity was not so-named until the early second century CE (4). During the time period covered by this volume both Judaism and Christianity were in the process of defining themselves, sometimes in contrast with one another.

How can this development be traced? Scholarship has attempted to define “early Catholicism,” or traced the development of canons and creeds, or examined the way early Christian writers defined themselves in contrast to heretical sects within the larger Judeo-Christian movement (Hellenistic mystery cults or developing Gnosticism, etc.). Dunn sketched the character of the first generation of Christians in the first two volumes of this series and now proposes to trace the streams of early Christianity through the complicated period between 70 and 180 CE. This is an important (and often overlooked) insight. Early Christianity was not monolithic; there was no one document or one writer which fully encapsulated ideal Christianity. There were multiple streams within the orthodox river so that what it means to be “Christian” was indeed contested.

It is possible to evaluate the development of early Christianity by accepting the final result (church history from the perspective of Eusebius, for example, or for many contemporary theologians, the Reformation) and evaluating the various voices with respect to how close they come to the received orthodoxy. But Dunn comes at the question from another angle: would Peter, James and Paul have been satisfied with what happened in the second century (41)? To answer the question Dunn examines at length the Jesus tradition, the impact of James, Paul, Peter and John (in that rough chronological order). Choosing to start with James is an interesting methodological decision since Eusebius and the Reformation might choose to begin with Paul. Dunn thinks Paul is responsible for shaping the Jewish messianic sect (led by James in Jerusalem) into the international movement it would become. Despite being disciples of Jesus, both Peter and John are minor voices in the first century (if later traditions are set aside).

The first three chapters of this volume set the stage by examining the sources available for the study of the post-apostolic period. In addition to the New Testament canon, Dunn surveys the Apostolic Fathers, the apologists of the early second century, Eusibius and the Heresiologists, and the New Testament pseudepigrapha (other gospels, letters and apocalypses). He observes most of the “spin off literature is much poorer in quality” than the material later recognized as canonical (183). For this reason Dunn ranks the Apostolic Fathers and Apologists as more important for tracing the development of early Christianity than “other” literature. The exception is the Gospel of Thomas which Dunn treats in his chapter on the reshaping of the Gospel of Jesus (John and Thomas).

The next major section of the book concerns the development of the Jesus tradition from an oral gospel to the written canonical gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke and finally John. Here Dunn revisits the thesis of Jesus Remembered, although this time from the perspective of how Jesus was remember in these written gospels. Dunn concludes the rich diversity of the Gospels (“same yet different”) indicates different lessons could be developed out of the same memories of Jesus. He illustrates this phenomenon in a chapter on how the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas develop the Jesus traditions using two different strategies.

Dunn traces the development of the Jesus tradition into the second century by examining how the Apostolic Fathers and the apologists used the written Gospels. He provides the data in the form of lists of quotations or allusions to each Gospel. For example, there are tables for the four Gospels as they appear in Justin Martyr. From this data it is clear Justin knew Mark but used the Gospel rarely and John only appears in a single allusion. Matthew is dominant, with a few citations of Luke and a few from the double tradition (so it is impossible to know if Matthew or Luke is in mind).

The next section of the book consists of two chapters defining what Dunn means by “Jewish Christianity” and the so-called “parting of the ways.” Dunn observes it is more important to recognize the Jewishness of Christianity than to unravel the puzzle of various forms of Christianity which may (or may not) have been in competition with one another at the end of the first century (595). He examines (briefly) several Jewish groups which also followed Jesus, including the Ebionites, the Nazoraeans, the Elkesaites, the Pseudo-Clementine literature, and Syrian Christianity. In order to speak about the parting of the ways, Dunn outlines the reasons Christians may have wanted to be seen as separate after the destruction of Jerusalem and consequent Roman policy toward the Jews. The fall of Jerusalem also changed the way Judaism thought of itself, so that the beginnings of rabbinic Judaism can be found in the same events which motivated Christianity to define itself as “not Jewish.” This evidence supports Dunn’s contention Jews and Christians did not see themselves as separate until perhaps as late as the Constantinian settlement (673).

The final major section in the book concerns the continued influence of Paul and Peter. As Dunn observes, of the three principle characters in the early church, James makes the least impact on the development of Christianity and Peter has been the focus of Catholic Christianity but left little impact on the New Testament (assuming 2 Peter is pseudonymous, probably 1 Peter as well, possibly rejecting Peter’s influence on Mark). This makes Paul the chief influence on the early development of Christianity and the so-called “second founder” of Christianity” (675). Even though he is a “contrary and troublesome figure in the history of Christianity” his contributions to the New Testament and their reception by the ensuing generations of the church are essential for understanding the development of Christianity (723). Dunn accepts the minority opinion that 1 Peter was addressed to Jewish Christians, but recognizes the Pauline influence on the letter (728).

There is some backtracking in this volume, which is to be expected in a project written over a long period. First, Dunn returns to his first volume of the series in Part 11 by examining how the Gospel moved from oral tradition to the written Gospels. In a one hundred page chapter Dunn reviews some of his arguments from Jesus Remembered and the essays in The Oral Gospel Tradition (Eerdmans, 2013).  Second, chapter 46 concerns the “parting of the ways,” a topic Dunn has discussed in his essay in the collection of essays, Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, A.D. 70 to 135 (Eerdmans, 1999). But this is not unexpected since Dunn re-used material from his Epworth Acts commentary in Beginning from Jerusalem, for example. Given the massive scope of the project, using and updating previous work ought to be expected. It is perhaps ironic that, like the Gospels themselves, Dunn’s oral presentations became written essays which were then re-worked and edited and included in a final (canonical?) volume.

Conclusion. This volume is an indispensable resource for the study of the late apostolic period. Since Dunn takes into account many non-canonical texts he is able to trace the trajectory of the development of the Church from the oral tradition of Jesus Remembered, through the earliest written forms of that memory, to the interpretation of those memories by the next generations of the early Church.


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: Douglas Estes, Questions and Rhetoric in the Greek New Testament

Estes, Douglas. Questions and Rhetoric in the Greek New Testament. An Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis. Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan, 2017. 400 pp. Hb; $49.99. Link to Zondervan

For most students of the New Testament Greek, the syntax of questions is often mysterious and difficult since most introductory grammars do not devote a chapter on how Greek forms questions, let alone the rhetorical nuances of questions. Usually how questions are formed is covered under punctuation or when the first interrogative pronouns are introduced. But rarely does a first-year New Testament grammar have the space to unpack any of the subtle rhetorical features of questions.

Douglas Estes has filled this lacuna with a lengthy monograph on the syntax and rhetoric of questions in the New Testament. Estes previously published his dissertation on The Questions of Jesus in John: Logic, Rhetoric, and Persuasive Discourse (Biblical Interpretation Series 115; Leiden: Brill, 2013). This handbook on Greek questions joins Murray Harris’s 2012 monograph on prepositions in Zondervan’s Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis series.

Estes describes twenty-eight linguistic features of questions (related to syntax, semantics, and pragmatics) in the first main section of the book. With respect to syntax Estes examines sentence formation and function, including word order, punctuation, mood of verbs and many other ways a Greek sentence can ask a question. This will be the most familiar to beginning Greek students. With respect to semantics, Estes examines such things as illocutionary force (pushing something forward toward the audience) or predicaments (asking a question in a way that affects how the question is heard by and responded to by the hearers). In the third section of the book Estes looks at four types of questions driven by syntax, rather than semantics. In this section he examines polar questions, variable questions, alternative questions and set questions. The fourth section lists a staggering twenty four types of questions which are driven by semantics (open questions, dilemma questions, counterfactual questions, etc.)

For each of the syntactical categories, Estes offers a brief definition followed by illustrations from the Greek New Testament but also in English. This will help a student understand the category. For example, under the heading of “Dilemma Questions,” Estes defines this category as a question asking the hearer to choose between two difficult situations. He then gives three examples in English and distinguishes the dilemma from a dilemmaton, which is a trick question designed as a verbal ambush for an enemy. He then briefly discusses the formation of this kind of question and its rhetorical effects. After this technical detail, he examines one New Testament text in detail as a “case study” (Luke 20:4 to illustrate a dilemmaton).

Estes provides copious examples from the Greek New Testament (a Scripture index is provided) as well as references to Greek rhetorical handbooks where appropriate. These include Quintilian (Institutio oratoria) and the works of Aristotle. After describing the syntactical or rhetorical feature and a case study, Estes provides several New Testament examples and a “key bibliography” to both ancient and modern writers.

Conclusion. Douglas Estes has done students of the Greek New Testament a great service by writing a remarkably accessible introduction to a potentially arcane sub-discipline.

Zondervan posted a book trailer for Questions and Rhetoric on YouTube.

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

Book Review: Uche Anizor and Hank Voss, Representing Christ

Anizor, Uche and Hank Voss. Representing Christ: A Vision for the Priesthood of All Believers. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2016.205 pp. Pb.; $20. Link to IVP  

Representing ChristRepresenting Christ is a study of the priesthood of the believer written by two recent Wheaton Ph.D graduates who have published dissertations on this topic (Anizor, Kings and Priests: Scripture’s Theological Account of Its Readers, Pickwick, 2014; Voss, The Priesthood of All Believers and the Missio Dei: A Canonical, Catholic, and Contextual Perspective, Pickwick 2016; both with introductions from Daniel Treier). Representing Christ fills a gap in discussions about the church by reviving a discussion on the priesthood of believers and applying this key Reformation doctrine to a modern church context.

The book begins by exposing a major problem in contemporary Christianity, the exaltation of the clergy in contrast to the priesthood of all believers. This brief introduction contrasts the priesthood of the baptized (the Orthodox tradition) and the priesthood of the faithful (the Roman Catholic tradition) with the Protestant doctrine than all believers are priest. Although Luther did not coin the term, most associate the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers with him. The book therefore includes a chapter on Luther, although the book strives to thoroughly biblical.

Chapter 2 sets the scriptural context for a “royal priesthood” using the model of the Garden of Eden as a Sanctuary and Adam as a Priest-King. This theme is drawn through the Exodus as God establishes his own people to be a nation of priests and David as a royal priest (focusing primarily on Psalm 110 and the Isaiah’s Servant songs). In the New Testament, 1 Peter 2:4-9 is a programmatic statement since Peter picks up on the idea of a royal priesthood from Exodus. If Adam was a priest-king in the original sanctuary, and Christ is a priestly servant, then the church is the offspring of Jesus and are therefore like Adam priests in a new Temple, the church. The theme seems to be muted in Paul’s letters, although the authors do reflect on Paul’s description of the believer as a living sacrifice, doing “acceptable worship.” For Anzior and Voss, the biblical vision of a royal priesthood of the church is the eschatological fulfillment of Israel’s corporate and professional priesthood, but viewed through the lens of Christ as the true Priest-King (55).

In the third chapter, Anzior and Voss describe the priesthood in the medieval period as a backdrop to their presentation of Luther’s reforms. Luther dismantled the hierarchy of the medieval priesthood and changed the way church life functioned. Luther’s unique contribution was to dispel the myth of “two estates,” a professional (elite) clergy and a non-professional laity. For Luther, all believers are called to do ministry even if not all exercise that call in the office of pastor. This is not an individualistic, democratic church, but rather a church united around the proclamation of the Gospel. In fact, as Anzior and Voss demonstrate in their fourth chapter, this community should reflect the unity and community of the Trinity. They want to avoid professional clericalism, but also atomistic collectives which misunderstand what being “in Christ” means.

What would a community practicing a biblical priesthood of all believers look like? In their fifth chapter Anzior and Voss describe this community by following Dallas Willard’s VIM model: Vision, Intention, and Means. The church’s vision needs to be representing Christ as a member of a royal priesthood, the intention of the church is being faithful to baptismal vows, and the means are the “seven central practices” of the royal priesthood.

The seven practices are drawn from Luther and beginning with baptism and concluding with the Lord’s Supper. These two public rituals frame the regular practices of the royal priesthood. Perhaps it is too much to describe Christian baptism as an ordination to a royal priesthood (on the analogy of the ritual washing of the Old Testament priesthood). The Lord’s Supper as the “culmination” of the practices of the royal priesthood does not seem to resonate with the purpose of the celebration in either the Gospels or Paul.

The middle five of the seven practices of the royal priesthood seem more related to the function of priests. Prayer, lectio divina (reading Scripture), Church discipline, and proclamation are the traditional functions of priests both before and after the Reformation, and Anzior and Voss include serving other priests as an additional practice. Here they have in mind the frequent command in the New Testament to serve one another (since everyone is a priest, serving one another is to serve the other priests).

The book concludes with a short chapter reflecting on why the royal priesthood of all believers is such an important doctrine. If everything they argue in this book is true, “so what?” Anzior and Voss believe their vision of a biblical royal priesthood will promote unity in the church and allow the church to better represent Christ in a world desperately in need of the grace of God.


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.