Brandon D. Smith, The Trinity in the Book of Revelation

Smith, Brandon D. The Trinity in the Book of Revelation: Seeing Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in John’s Apocalypse. Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2022. 221 pp. Pb; $35. Link to IVP Academic

Brandon D. Smith is assistant professor of theology and New Testament at Cedarville University. He is also a co-founder of the Center for Baptist Renewal and host of the Church Grammar podcast. The Trinity in Revelation is a “somewhat condensed version” of his Ph.D. dissertation at Ridley College under Michael Bird. In this new volume of the Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture series, Smith uses tools and reading strategies (both ancient and modern) which will help engage in a trinitarian reading of Revelation. The method uses biblical theology,  systematic theology, church history, and patristics (34) all under the umbrella of a theological, canonical approach.

Smith, Trinity in RevelationDaniel Trier and Kevin Vanhoozer edited the Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture series (and contributed the first volume, Theology and the Mirror of Scripture: A Mere Evangelical Account, IVP Academic 2016). The series contributes to systematic theology from an evangelical perspective. The volumes aim at a fresh understanding of Christian doctrine through creative engagement with Scripture. As they observe in the introduction, the series seeks to engage Scripture but also promotes dialogue with Catholic tradition. This series addresses a weakness in evangelical theology: a relative lack of interest in the church’s shared creedal heritage.

Smith gives an overview of Christology and the book of Revelation in the first chapter. Does Revelation portray Jesus as an angel (Adele Yarbro-Collins, Loren Stuckenbruck)? Or does Revelation present Jesus as a divine being (Bauckham, Hurtado, Ian Paul)? Or, as Udo Schnelle suggested, is the Christology of Revelation “more blurry”? For example, Schnelle sees the lamb as subordinate to God, but the lamb is primary in the theology of Revelation. He sees this as a tension that cannot be resolved. As Smith observes, this shows that both extremes make good points. He, therefore, suggests that “this debate proceeds from what is largely undebatable” (11). John has a theological commitment, an intense messianic devotion, and a pneumatic experience.

In the first chapter, Smith sketches the Theological Interpretation of Scripture and acknowledges his debt to Daniel Yeago’s 1994 article on the New Testament and Nicene Dogma. Essentially, a pro-Nicene reading, or Scripture (to use Lewis Ayres’s term), refers to the culture of the fourth century, which resulted in the orthodoxy recognized at the council of Constantinople (381). A “trinitarian reading of Revelation” observes how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have the same nature yet are distinct persons (16). Some readers will object to this as anachronistic since it reads later Christian theology back into a Jewish Christian document like Revelation. Nevertheless, Smith disagrees. The orthodoxy that finally appears in the creeds is based on a close reading of the Scripture. Or, to put this another way, what would have “counted as evidence” in Revelation for the orthodox understanding of the Trinity that emerged at the council of Constantinople? “If one investigates the roles and descriptions of the Christ or the lamb and the spirit in Revelation, a trinitarian dynamic is clear and thus must be engaged” (23).

By a close reading of the text, Smith says this includes textual, grammatical, and neurotypical choices that illuminate his theology (22). However, this is not a historical-critical method or a “stunted historical-grammatical approach.” This sort of modernist approach finds the sole meaning of the text in the modernist idea of sensus literalis. By close reading, Smith seeks the sensus plenior, the “full sense of the text and the deeper theological meaning” (23). Once again, many scholars find this theological reading (or confessional reading) to be anachronistic and eisegetical. It is a non-starter in many parts of the academy. There is a great deal of suspicion when a writer begins to read later trinitarian theology back into the New Testament.

However, Theological Interpretation of Scripture people do not care about that objection. The method is based on reading the final creedal forms back into the New Testament. Smith thinks “Revelation is arguably the best case study for whether these patristics concepts work (184).

This method recognizes the Bible as a theological book, and any theological statement should include the whole canon scripture (not just the New Testament). Smith points out that one cannot read Revelation rightly without a canonical approach since the book is “rife with Old Testament intertextuality” (28). He argues that in Revelation, what John is doing is what early Christians did: attempting to explain the roles and relationship of Jesus and the Holy Spirit with respect to Jewish monotheism (32).

Chapters 2-4 work out this method for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each chapter begins with a short introduction, followed by the patristic conceptions of the father, son, or Holy Spirit. Smith builds a “pro-Nicene grammar,” a patristic lens through which he will read Revelation. The key theme in this section is how the fathers expressed both unity and distinction within the Trinity.

Following this section is an interpretation of select passages in Revelation which contribute to the orthodox view of the Trinity. It should not be surprising that the chapter on Christology is the most extended section since this is where the controversy is. No one argues that God the father is not God. The chapter on the Holy Spirit is the briefest, the select passages only concern Revelation 1-3. John’s pneumatology “bears a family resemblance to the Jewish traditions of the Old Testament, Qumran, Philo, Josephus, Enoch, [4] Ezra, and even the Greek poet Hesiod” (169).

The book concludes with a final chapter, a constructive account of the Trinity and Revelation. He reviews the evidence of chapters 2-4 and then interacts with Bauckham and Hurtado, suggesting a theological interpretation of Scripture helps move beyond high/low Christology and binitarism (178). Smith argues that historically driven methods still do not satisfy the need for clear categories of unity and distinction. High/low Christology puts Jesus on an axis, introducing a tension between monotheism and Christology. Smith believes his pro-Nicene reading of Revelation overcomes those tensions by offering more precise categories about unity and distinction.

Conclusion. Smith provides an excellent example of Theological Interpretation of Scripture by demonstrating how the Book of Revelation contributes to later Christian theology on the Trinity. Readers who do not care for the methods of Theological Interpretation of Scripture will struggle with the book, but that should not detract from the contribution Smith has made to a theological reading of Revelation. I wonder: could someone read Revelation using the methods described here but chose Arius instead of Nicaea? Would the results be equally valid?


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


Book Review: Bo H. Lim and Daniel Castelo, Hosea (THOTC)

Lim, Bo H. and Daniel Castelo. Hosea. Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 260 pp. Pb; $25.   Link to Eerdmans

Unlike other commentaries in the Two Horizons series, Lim and Castelo place their theological essays in the context of the commentary itself. Other contributions to the Two Horizons Commentary followed the commentary section with a series of essays on the theology of the book. In this commentary, Bo Lim writes an introduction to theological exegesis (chapter 2) as well as the commentary on text of Hosea. Daniel Castelo contributes an introduction to theological interpretation of Hosea and four essays on theological topics emerging from the book.

lim-hoseaCastelo’s opening chapter to the book is a primer on Theological Interpretation especially as it pertains to Hosea. He observes that defining what is meant by “theological interpretation” is difficult. How is interpretation theological? From the older systematic vs. biblical theology perspective, the answer might have been “interpretation is not theological.” For example, Castelo argues it is legitimate to search the Hebrew Bible for the Trinity, even though the idea of a Trinity is a later theological construct built on the New Testament. Theological interpretation is a kind of “search for Christ” in the Hebrew Bible requiring a “spiritual reading” which employs “allegory, typology, figuration, and the like” (17), but a spiritual reading which is guided by the Holy Spirit (19). Castelo suggests a three-fold structure for Hosea which recognizes the context of Hosea but points to larger, canonical, salvation history issues. His “rebellion, judgment, return/hope” triad is common in the prophets, as is Hosea’s emphasis on the collective sin of Israel (23).

Although I continue to be suspicious of theological interpretation, Bo Lim’s introduction to theological exegesis provides some relief. The Hebrew Bible is indeed canonical scripture for the church (27) and Hosea is part of the story of salvation history played out over the whole canon. Canonical placement is important, Hosea is to be read and re-read intertextually as part of the book of the Twelve. For Lim, the collection of twelve books was intended to be read as a theodicy responding to the fall of Samarian and Jerusalem. The book reached its final form in the postexilic period and now serves as an introduction to the Book of the Twelve (34).

With respect to theological exegesis, Lim follows Michael Bakhtin’s suggestion that texts operate on a dialogical level. Rather than breaking Hosea into monological units (which he observes results in an incoherent book), Lim wants to read the final form of Hosea in dialogue with the rest of the canon of Scripture as well as its reception by God’s people (36). It is a mistake to read Hosea’s ethical and theological vision solely in the context of the eighth century B.C. Lim therefore calls attention to the way Hosea has been read as anticipating the “Day of the Lord” after the Babylonian exile and in the New Testament (citing Acts 3:18 and 1 Peter 1:10-12). In addition to the clear parallels between Hosea and Amos, Hosea’s theme of return to the land is found throughout the Book of the Twelve and his marriage metaphor frames the collection (Mal 3:1).

The body of the commentary is broken into ten units, all written by Lim. He moves through larger sections, commenting on key vocabulary but does not attempt to comment on every phrase. He interacts with secondary literature throughout the commentary, although Lim is more concerned with interpretation than some of the more difficult problems of Hosea’s text. Hebrew occasionally appears in the body of the commentary accompanied by transliteration. Lim’s discussion of the marriage metaphor the first three chapters of the book is excellent, balancing parallel material from Assyria with modern accusations of misogyny and violence.

For the most part, Lim’s theological exegesis is identical to a typical commentary, although he occasionally begins a paragraph with “at the canonical level…” His comments on Hosea 6:1-6 demonstrates his dialogical method. By reading 6:4-6 as the Lord’s response to 6:1-3, the Lord’s displeasure with sacrifice evokes the lack of both knowledge and loyalty in Israel (134). He then draw the implication to confessional orthodoxy: sincerity is not enough, sola orthodoxa, sola veritas will not do (135). This looks like good exegesis which takes into account both literary and cultural context and draws significant application to contemporary issues.

With respect to Hosea’s children, Lim observes sees the “not my people” becoming “my people” as an anticipation of the inclusion of the Gentiles (citing Rom 9:25-27 and Eph 2:12). This is an example of interpreting a text across the canon and (perhaps) taking into consideration how Hosea was received by later Christian interpreters. However, that God’s people would be expanded to include the Gentiles is not at all the point of the eighth century B.C. prophet. Neither a canonical reading of Hosea within the Book of the Twelve nor Jewish reception of this text during the exile or in the post-exilic period would interpret the Gentiles as the “not my people” in Hosea.

In “Marriage, Sexuality, and Covenant Faithfulness in Hosea,” Castelo discusses the problem of the marriage metaphor in Hosea. It is the dominant metaphor for God’s relationship with Israel, but there is something disturbing in the books description of Israel as an unfaithful wife and prostitute. One problem according to Castelo is contemporary images of marriage and unfaithfulness. Attempting to draw out theological and practical implications, Castelo suggests Hosea’s sexual imagery “beckons readers to become re-enchanted with sexuality as something holy, interpersonal and mysterious” (193). By drawing analogies to contemporary marriage therapy, Castelo misses the important point the text of Hosea actually makes: Israel has been unfaithful and will go into exile for a period, yet me restored to her original virginity in the future when God woos her back from the wilderness (2:14-15). That textual meaning can be read across the canon by observing Jesus’ own use of the marriage metaphor in the Synoptic Gospels (see my own Jesus the Bridegroom). The marriage metaphor in Hosea could have been a solid example if intertextual canonical theological interpretation, but this is not exploited in this essay.

One criticism of these theological essays. They occasionally seem to stray far from the context of Hosea. In his comments on “Knowing and Speaking of YHWH in the Dynamic the Covenant Bond,” Castelo discusses the interrelationship between Christian metaphysics and Christian speech. Over ten pages he discusses theism, the nature of the Creator, and how that Creator communicates. He concludes the section by comparing Psalm 88 and John Donne’s “Batter My Heart.” But there is nothing in these pages connecting these (interesting) theological musings to the text of Hosea. Perhaps this is a result of my biblical-theology mind trying to read systematic theology, but this sort of thing is too common in the practice of “theological interpretation of Scripture.”

Conclusion. As Castelo observes, Hosea is a difficult book because “many of its features do not fit easily alongside contemporary sensibilities and though forms” (227). This discomfort finds its way into the commentary at several points, especially in the theological essays. These essays are oriented toward the marriage metaphor than anything. Lim’s commentary on the text of Hosea is excellent and draws on cultural and canonical context to interpret and apply the text judiciously. Castelo’s theological essays are challenging, although less connected to the text than expected. Nevertheless this Two Horizons commentary is a useful contribution to the study of a difficult prophetic book.

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

Free Books for Logos Bible Software – Journal of Theological Interpretation

JTILogos is has something a little different for their Free Book of the Month promotion. Partnering with Eisenbrauns, Logos is offering the first two issue of the Journal of Theological Interpretation for free. The Journal began publication in 2007 and is edited by Joel B. Green. It contains a wide variety of articles Theological interpretation of Scripture has been a growing movement in scholarship in recent years. This hermenutical method intentionally includes “the theological and ecclesial location of biblical interpretation, the significance of canon and creed for biblical hermeneutics, the historical reception of biblical texts, and other more pointedly theological interests. How might we engage interpretively with the Christian Scriptures so as to hear and attend to God’s voice? The Journal of Theological Interpretation aims to serve these agendas.” The articles in the first volume include:

Volume 1.1 (2007)

  • Joel B. Green, The (Re)Turn to Theology
  • Richard B. Hays, Reading The Bible With Eyes Of Faith: The Practice Of Theological Exegesis
  • Murray Rae, Texts In Context: Scripture In The Divine Economy
  • Michael A. Rynkiewich, Mission, Hermeneutics, And The Local Church
  • Christine Helmer, Trust And The Spirit: The Canon’S Anticipated Unity
  • R. W. L. Moberly, Christ In All The Scriptures? The Challenge Of Reading The Old Testament As Christian Scripture
  • D. Brent Laytham, Interpretation On The Way To Emmaus: Jesus Performs His Story
  • Michael J. Gorman, A “Seamless Garment” Approach To Biblical Interpretation?

Volume 1.2 (2007)

  • Angus Paddison, P. T. Forsyth, Scripture, And The Crisis Of The Gospel
  • Michael J. Gorman, “Although/Because He Was In The Form Of God”: The Theological Significance Of Paul’S Master Story (Phil 2:6–11)
  • Andy Johnson, The “New Creation,” The Crucified And Risen Christ, And The Temple: A Pauline Audience For Mark
  • Joseph L. Mangina, Apocalypticizing Dogmatics: Karl Barth’s Reading Of The Book Of Revelation
  • Charles J. Scalise, The Hermeneutical Circle Of Christian Community: Biblical, Theological, And Practical Dimensions Of The Unity Of Scripture
  • Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Review Article: Reading With The Subject: A Conversation With Angus Paddison
  • Steven J. Koskie, Review Article: Seeking Comment: The Commentary And The Bible As Christian Scripture

As you can see, there are some valuable articles in these first two issues of JTI. You can also enter a contest to win all twelve issues of the Journal of Theological Interpretation (six years, 2007-2012). The Journal is one of the many resources included in Logos Cloud and the premium level. Here is my review Logos Cloud in case you missed it.

In addition to the Free Book of the Month, for only $1.99. you may purchase Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology by John H. Walton. In the first half of the book Walton does a comparative studies ancient Near Eastern cosmologies and then uses that as a lens to read Genesis 1:1–2:4, concluding the the creation story uses a “functional cosmology” which evokes temple ideology.

Both of these books are excellent additions to your Logos library, so make sure to add them to your library before the end of the month.

Hahn Our FatherIn addition to the Logos Free book, two other free books are on offer. Noet is the division of Faithlife focusing on classics; this month they are offering Guide for the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides and his The Eight Chapters of Maimonides on Ethics  for only 99 cents. Verbum is offering Scott Hahn’s Understanding “Our Father”: Biblical Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer for free and his Scripture Matters: Essays on Reading the Bible from the Heart of the Church for 99 cents. Both books by Hahn are worth reading, I am glad to see them as a part of this promotion!

Verbum is part of the Faithlife family of companies, focusing on Catholic resources. Both Noet and Verbum use your same Faithlife account, so these books are available to anyone with a Faithlife / Logos username and password.