Category Archives: Jesus and the Gospels

Book Review: John (NTL), Marianne Meye Thompson

Marianne Meye Thompson, the George Eldon Ladd Professor on the New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, has written a fine commentary on John. She employs narrative and historical criticism, choosing to focus “on the narrative and on the broad cultural milieu” from which John’s narrative arose. Basically, she looks at the story of John’s Gospel and examines the culture and history to illuminate the meanings of Jesus’ actions or words (such as the Festival of Tabernacles to understand Jesus’ words in John 7).

However, Thompson also acknowledges that history cannot ell us everything we need to know about Jesus. Many have pondered over whether John presents “the Jesus of history” to his readers, but “the inadequacy of historical reconstruction is already evident in the opening words of the Gospel, where Jesus the Messiah (1:17) is introduced as the Word through whom the world was made, who became flesh, and who is now ever with the Father” (9). Historical reconstruction cannot go back into eternity. It remains within the world of the created and it cannot inform us about who the pre-incarnate Word is, how he had glory with the Father before the world existed (17:5), and what Jesus has done since ascending back to the Father. The three statements in the quote above present the “cosmic identity of the Word as the agent of life” (9). They are confessional statements who tell us who Jesus really is. He is a Jesus who we could not previously see with our eyes, who we cannot see now, but who we will see. We will see him “as he is” (1 Jn 3.2).

John is clearly different from the Synoptic Gospels. Following Richard Bauckham, Thompson disagrees that John the Apostle, the son of Zebedee, wrote the Gospel of John. Instead the Beloved Disciple, whoever he was, was known to the readers and is trustworthy (21:24). Since he was “the first to believe in the risen Lord and to believe without seeing, [he] is also the witness behind the Gospel, to believe in the witness of the Gospel is to believe the witness of this one who saw Jesus” (428). Thompson says, “What we have in John is a narrative account of who a first-century Christian author understood Jesus to be” (22). Though I disagree with her over the Gospel’s author, John brings his own perspective to the table. He emphasizes Jesus’ postresurrection appearances for they give life to his followers and perspective to his life ministry and teachings (2:22; 12:16).

Thompson writes seven pages on John’s perspective and witness to Jesus, with the introduction itself being only twenty-four pages. Her introduction, though brief, is not concerned with a Johannine community and its hypothetical problems, teachings, and needs. While John did have an intended audience, we cannot discover that audience based on John’s Gospel. Thompson posits that John’s Gospel was written in the latter end of the first century for believers in Ephesus. Ultimately, his Gospel is written for all people that we may know and understand who this Christ is through his ministry.

Thompson divides John into six section and includes nine excursus (see below). She offers her own translation and provides a few textual notes after each translation. Each chapter in John is divided into a few smaller section, and each section may cover four to eight pages. She illuminates John’s purpose without boring her reader.

Sometimes Thompson doesn’t explicitly answer some kind of difficulty or seeming contradiction. One example would be the timing of Jesus’ temple cleansing in John 2. After noting that both Jesus’ temple cleansing and donkey-ridden entry into Jerusalem occurred on Passover, Thompson says, “At the first Passover, Jesus’ action in the temple prefigures Jesus’ death and resurrection; at the last Passover in the Gospel, Jesus goes to his death.” She then includes a footnote on those commentators who understand the temple cleansing to have happened early in Jesus’ ministry and late in his ministry.

Though I would have appreciated seeing Thompson elaborate on whether she thought this was the same temple cleansing as in the Synoptics, I must also point out that this is not the intended function of her commentary. She shows what John is doing narratively: he’s highlighting Jesus’ death and resurrection with the temple at the beginning and end of his ministry. There are other places in her commentary where Thompson does not “answer” a problem I have. It may very well be because it does not fit with her methodology.

But historically, did this occur twice in Jesus’ life or once? Again, Thompson looks at the cultural (e.g., the woman at the well) and historical events in Jesus’ life (e.g., the various festivals), not over every detail of his (albeit historical) life.

The Chocolate Milk

I don’t want to end this review on a sour note. I very much enjoyed Thompson’s commentary. She shows sympathy to the woman at the well by pointing out that the woman’s five previous marriages would have ended in death or divorce, and if divorce, she would have been cast off by the husband. She may be living immorally with the sixth husband, or perhaps in desperation. Either way Jesus does not condemn her, but “many commentators and preachers have hastened to fill the void!” (103). She doesn’t think that John 6 refers directly to the Lord’s Supper, but that there are legitimate connections between them. In John 3.5, the phrase “water and spirit” refer to a single birth (81). John 21 shows the life-giving and sending work of Jesus to the world through his disciples. He is alive, he validates the beloved disciples’ witness, and he sends his disciples, specifically Peter, out with a mission just as he was sent.

Recommended?

Marianne Thompson has written a fine commentary on John’s Gospel which would be helpful for the student, teacher, and pastor. She helpfully keeps the story in mind as she goes through each section of the text, reminding the reader that Jesus, the Word, exercises God’s authority in his words, actions, death, and resurrection. He gives life so that other may know God and live with him forever.

Lagniappe

  • Series: New Testament Library
  • Author: Marianne Meye Thompson
  • Hardcover: 568 pages
  • Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press (November 6, 2015)

Buy it on Amazon

Disclosure: I received this book free from Westminster John Knox Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

8 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Jesus and the Gospels

Book Review: The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing (Jonathan Pennington)

Jonathan Pennington, Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation and the Director of Research Doctoral Studies at SBTS, author of Reading the Gospels Wisely and Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew, has written “a historical, literary, and theological exposition of the Sermon on the Mount” (1). He situates the Sermon “in the dual context of Jewish wisdom literature and the Greco-Roman virtue tradition, both of which are concerned with the great theological and existential question of human flourishing” (1). It is laid out in three parts with his own translation and an introduction providing an overall reading strategy for the Sermon.

No section of Scripture has been written about more than the Sermon, and in the introduction Pennington summarizes how the Sermon has been interpreted throughout the patristic, medieval, reformational, modern periods, and he helpfully includes non-western and non-caucasian readings. Although not everyone would be interested in reading the history of interpretation, Pennington says, “We cannot simply identify one of these readings as right and others as all wrong. Each has a contribution to make to our understanding” (13).

Jesus, the true king and embodiment of God’s Law, “is the epitome of wisdom and virtue” (15). Pennington defines what he means by flourishing:

True human flourishing is only available through communion with the Father God through his revealed Son, Jesus, as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. This flourishing is only experienced through faithful, heart-deep, whole-person discipleship, following Jesus’ teachings and life, which situate the disciple into God’s community or kingdom. This flourishing will only be experienced fully in the eschaton, when God finally establishes his reign upon the earth. as followers of Jesus journey through their lives, they will experience suffering in this world, which in God’s providence is in fact a means to true flourishing even now. (14-15)

Summary

It isn’t enough to translate the sermon and think that words mean to us what it means to Jesus’ audience. What does it mean to be “blessed”? In chapter one Pennington provides and “encyclopedic context of the sermon” by examines Israel’s story, the setting of Second Temple Judaism wisdom literature, and the Greco-Roman virtue tradition and how their worldviews around certain terms Jesus uses. Peace (shalom) was established in God’s original creation. Wisdom and, later, apocalyptic literature came about because the fear of the Lord, faithfully living under the kingship of Yahweh, brought true life, and Israel looked to the end when sin would be vanquished. For the Greco-Romans, true flourishing came with virtuous living. Jesus’ Sermon brings these two ideas together, which can be seen in his use of specific words like “blessing/flourishing,” “perfect/whole,” “wise,” “fool,” “righteous,” and “reward.”

In chapters two and three, Pennington performs a word study on the words makarios (“blessed”) and teleios (perfect)two major concepts within the Sermon. When Jesus says, “Blessed is the one…” he means that in this certain state of being, this one is flourishing. The one who is meek, humble, and looked down upon in society, but who is in covenant with the Lord, is experiencing true flourishing. The idea of teleios (“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” 5.48) is one of wholeness“the teleios person in the Old Testament… is the one in total submission to God, who has an unimpeded relationship with Yahweh” (75). To be whole is to follow the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, and mind—to follow him with one’s whole self—and not to be a double-minded hypocrit.

In chapter four Pennington concisely examines seven more key terms that recur throughout the Sermon:

  • righteousness
  • hypocrisy
  • heart
  • Gentile//pagans
  • the Father in heaven
  • the kingdom of God/heaven
  • Reward/recompense/treasure

In chapter five Pennington lays out the structure of the Sermon and it’s setting in Matthew, noting that “Matthew’s literary skill is all about structure” (106). He “appears to be less concerned with the individual narratives per se than with how these stories fit together in conjunction with major teaching blocks to tell a larger story” (106). Pennington lays out the broad structure og Matthew and of the Sermon and says that the Lord’s Prayer is located at the center of the Sermon (132-33).

Part two consists of six chapters of commentary on the Sermon—Matthew 5.1–16; 5.17–48; 6.1–21; 6.19–34; 7.1–12; and 7.13–8.1. Part two is filled in with the information from part one, as the structures and word studies give shape and fill the commentary portion.

It is under persecution and slander (5.10–11) that God’s people paradoxically flourish (5.1–9). “Jesus’ macarisms [5.1–11] are grace-based, wisdom invitations to human flourishing in God’s coming kingdom” (161).

For Pennington, the Sermon’s theme is that of “greater righteousness.” Unlike the hypocritical Pharisees who do the right things but have selfish hearts not seeking to honor God, Jesus’ followers are to be fully devoted to God. Rather than following the external instructions of the Torah, they are to follow it with the heart by watching their teacher live it out. In this they will be “whole” like their heavenly Father.

The false prophets of 7.15–23 are not necessarily devious false teachers, but hypocrites (i.e., the Pharisees) who have evil hearts. Pennington sees many parallels with the rest of Matthew (healthy or decaying trees: 3.10 and 12.33–37; lawlessness: 23.28 and 24.12; 7.21–23, cf. 18.6 and 24.4–11).

Part three gives a theology of the Sermon and human flourishing in six theses. The Bible is about (1) human flourishing with (2) God in the center where his disciples live under (3) divinely revealed (4) virtue (5) under his grace. (6) God saves us to know him and to serve and love one another in his creation.

Recommended?

No section of Scripture has been written about more than Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. “The Sermon, standing as it does as the first teaching of the new-covenant documents, likewise reveals much about how one understands several issues of theology and Christian practice” (3). Jesus teaches his new-covenant members—then and now—how to flourish and live virtuously in a covenantal relationship with their Father, the God of the universe.

Anyone studying the Sermon on the Mount would be at a loss without Pennington’s book. This isn’t the end-all-be-all of comments on the Sermon, but Pennington has spent fifteen years in Matthew, and one sees the depth of his research in his insights, explanations, and footnotes. Pennington has an eye for Matthew’s literary techniques such as structuring, inclusios, and word plays. If you’re going to study or teach on the Sermon, or if you simply want to know more about the Sermon, Pennington’s book is a must.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Jonathan T. Pennington
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (January 17, 2018)

Previous Posts

Buy from Amazon or Baker Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

1 Comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Jesus and the Gospels

The Center of the Center of the Center of the Sermon on the Mount

Sermon on the Mount

In his new book The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing, Jonathan Pennington says that in the Gospel of Matthew, “Matthew’s literary skill is all about structure” (106). When comparing Matthew’s stories of Jesus’ healings and miracles with the two other Synoptic Gospels, Matthew generally gives shorter retellings. Throughout the Bible, structure is often just as important as what is said.

The biblical authors didn’t use chapter headings, (parentheses), italics, bold, or different colors to frame different sections. They often used words and themes in a literary technique called an inclusio. Why does this fancy word matter?

Imagine holding a dark, rustic 5×7 picture frame. You intend to hang your annual family Christmas photo (the serious one) in your living room. You are not going to put a 3×5 picture in a 5×7 frame—that would look silly. Neither will you try to cram a 5×7 picture into a 3×5 frame; that would destroy the picture and tell people that you don’t care for your property (and that you have bad taste!) Because you appreciate aesthetics, you place your 5×7 annual family photo into that dark, rustic, 5×7 picture frame. The smooth frame matches the pleasant picture. It fits (while your silly Christmas picture will go into the neon frame).

Matthew’s skill isn’t seen in telling elaborate stories. Pennington says he “appears to be less concerned with the individual narratives per se than with how these stories fit together in conjunction with major teaching blocks to tell a larger story” (106). Matthew presents the message of his Gospel through the shape of his Gospel. He frames texts with intentionality. Beginning with the whole Gospel of Matthew:

Abraham

1.1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

[Matthew’s Gospel]

28.18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In Genesis 12.1–3, Yahweh commissioned Abraham to be a blessing to the nations. Although Matthew doesn’t cite Abraham’s name at the end of his book, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the true King, the new “David,” his disciples receive the commission to proclaim his kingship to every nation that they would be converted and would follow him, continuing his line (or “genealogy”).

The Presence of Christ

1.23 Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

18.20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.

28.20 …And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Three times Matthew states that Jesus (or God) will be with his people. The presence of Christ frames the text, and it is the proclamation of his present-and-coming kingdom which brings a separation among humanity seen throughout Matthew’s Gospel (110).

The Gospel of the Kingdom (of God)

Narrowing our search down, it is well known that there are five major blocks of teaching in Matthew. The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5–7) is located within a larger block of narrative (4.17–9.38).

4.17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

4.23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

[Sermon on the Mount; 5–7]

[Healing and Calling Disciples, 8–9]

9.35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

This block of narrative (4.17–9.38) is framed by a call to repentance, a prayer for more laborers (disciples), and the phrase “the gospel of the kingdom.” Pennington says this whole section is “to be read as one unit, the theme of which is the call to discipleship (through repentance) that comes from the coming of the kingdom of heaven” (114).

The Sermon is meant to be read as the explanation of what it means to live according to God’s coming kingdom” (114). The Sermon is the perfect example of an “exposition of what repentance toward God and his Fatherly reign looks like (4:17), of what the life of discipleship looks like” (114).

The “New Law” of the Sermon

5.1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

[The Sermon on the Mount] 

7.28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. 8.1 When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.

The Sermon itself is framed by Jesus ascending up the mountain (5.1–2) and descending down the mountain (7.28–8.1). Jesus, the greater Moses, taught the people what it should look like to live in God’s kingdom. He spoke with authority, unlike the scribes who pretend to have Moses’ authority (23.2).1

The Law and the Prophets

Pennington provides a three-fold outline to the Sermon:

  1. Introduction: The Call to God’s People (5.3–16)
  2. The Body: The Greater Righteousness for God’s People (5.17–7.12)
  3. Conclusion: Three Warnings Regarding the Prospect of Eschatological Judgment (7.13–27)

The Body of the sermon is framed by the phrase “the Law and/or the Prophets.”

5.17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

[Greater righteousness for God’s people]

7.12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Pennington says that the theme of the sermon is “greater righteousness.” To be a repentant and forgiven disciple in God’s kingdom, and to be in covenant with God and to know his word (Ps 1.1; 2.12), is to live life as it was meant to be lived. It is a “whole” life; it is a flourishing life (cf. the blossoming, fruitful tree by the rivers of water in Ps 1.3, which resonates Garden of Eden imagery). The Pharisees were hypocrites who performed the right actions but with evil hearts. To have “greater righteousness” is to be whole and complete like the Father in heaven (5.48). It is to be “pure in heart” (5.8). It is to follow God’s instructions both outwardly and inwardly. Christ fulfilled the law, and we live under the law of Christ (1 Cor 9.21; Gal 6.2).

Rewards from the Father in Heaven

  1. The Body: The Greater Righteousness (GR) for God’s People (5.17–7.12)
    1. GR in Relation to God’s Laws (5.17–48)
    2. GR in Relation to Piety Toward God (6.1–21)
    3. GR in Relation to the World (6.19–7.12)2

6.1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

[Greater righteousness in one’s piety toward God]

6.19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Here, point two of the Body is framed by a few words/ideas. Both sides speak about rewards/treasures either from God in heaven or with the treasure being in heaven. Good deeds are not to be done to impress people (on earth), but to honor God who is in heaven. The Pharisees, who do not have pure hearts, want to receive all of the honor (as do the scribes, for they sit in the “seat of Moses,” 23.2), yet they give none to God. They will obtain no reward from the Father (vv. 4b, 6b, 18b) for they perform their pious acts in public to gain honor from others who see them (vv. 1, 2, 5, 17).

The Lord’s Prayer

Finally, at “the center of the center of the center of the Sermon” lies the Lord’s Prayer (125).3

6.7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do [cf 5.48], for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:

[The Lord’s Prayer]

6.14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Being the center of the center of the center of the Sermon, Pennington says, “We should expect that the Lord’s Prayer has much to teach us about the whole, and such is the case,” for it “is a model of what kind of petitions and God-orientation should mark the Christian life. It is the scaffolding around the tower of prayer or the guiding handrails along which the disciple walks in forming his or her own prayers” (222).

In the first half of the prayer (vv. 9–10) oriented toward God the Father, Jesus tells his disciples to ask “our Father” to “give us this day our daily bread” (6.11). Bread is an item that is repeated throughout Matthew’s Gospel. In Jesus’ temptation, he refused to turn stones into bread but obeyed God instead (4.3). Later in Matthew 14 and 15, Jesus feeds thousands of people with bread and fish. At the Last Supper, the bread that was broken represented Jesus’ soon-to-be broken flesh (27.17–30, see v. 28). Within the Sermon, God the Father always knows our needs and provides for us (6.10, 25–34; 7.7–11). Our Father “gives good gifts to those who ask him” (7.11).

The second half of the Lord’s Prayer (vv. 11–13) is the “human-oriented part of the Prayer [which] focuses on interpersonal sin and relational conflict” (226). This is “reiterated in the conclusion to the Prayer” (6.14–15) and is seen throughout Matthew, such as in 5.7, 9.1–8, 12.31–32, 18.15–20, 21–35, and 26.28 (226).

Without giving away too many details about the Lord’s Prayer, Pennington says, “The introduction to the Prayer is an exhortation to focus on heart-driven, simplicity of prayer. The conclusion likewise focuses on the heart and inner disposition” (228). The conclusion seems to come from out of left field, especially as the conclusion to the frame. It doesn’t seem to match the introduction (6.7–8). Pennington adds that this concluding remark “is a commentary on the Prayer that is meant to drive home the weightiness of interpersonal relationships among God’s people” (229). The one who seeks forgiveness is ready to forgive from the heart (18.35).

Knowing the ways Matthew frames his whole Gospel and sections of his Gospel helps us to interpret what occurs in the middle. Keeping the larger picture in view, Pennington gives the reader an avenue for even the most difficult parts of the Sermon on the Mount.

Buy The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing from Amazon

SotM&HF


1 Pennington also says that the “flourishing” statements that make up the Beatitudes (in the Sermon—Jesus’ first discourse) are contrasted with the “woes” to the Pharisees in Matthew 23—the beginning of Jesus’ fifth and final discourse in Matthew.

2 I won’t get into how points two and three overlap (they both use 6.19–21) only to say that those three verses serve as a bridge between the two sections.

3 Amongst all of the inclusios I’ve shown, this is not to say that the Lord’s Prayer is the center of Matthew. That should be obvious (it’s the first of five discourses). Rather, it’s more likely that Matthew 13 (the third discourse) is the center (if Matthew is written as a chiasm, p. 110).

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

1 Comment

Filed under Biblical Studies, Biblical Theology, Jesus and the Gospels, Preview

Review: Mark (TNTC), Eckhard Schnabel

Mark (Tyndale New Testament Commentary) Review

The first commentary on the Gospel of Mark was written in the sixth century, and between “AD 650 and 1000, thirteen major commentaries were written on Matthew, but only four on Mark” (Strauss, 20). Despite the long neglect, much study has been done over Mark’s short Gospel for more than the last century.

Eckhard Schnabel, Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell and author of Acts (ZECNT), Early Christian Mission (2 volumes), and 40 Questions on the End Times, replaces Alan Cole’s Mark volume in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary (TNTC) series with a Christmas meal—441 pages of commentary on the shortest Gospel. While adding to the growing list of commentaries, Schnabel (who is also the TNTC’s series editor) did not write a commentary of commentaries on Mark. Instead, writing for pastors, students, and laypeople, he comments on the meaning of Mark through theological reflection, historical points of reference, the meanings of words, and the literary development of the characters.

Summary

Schnabel gives very little attention to Markan priority (whether Mark’s Gospel was written first), saying that Markan priority “continues to be plausible,” but that “these questions are more significant for commentaries on the Gospels of Matthew and Luke” (4). Thankfully, Schnabel examines the text and not a possible Markan community behind the text, though he does acknowledge future Mark’s clarifications for Gentile readers (14, 162).

He takes Mark to be the actual author (12), probably writing from Rome for various churches (14) anywhere between 50–64 AD. We don’t know what Mark’s sources are, but if Papias is correct, Mark’s “most significant — and perhaps the only — source” was Peter (18). Mark ends his Gospel at 16.8. Abrupt endings are attested in antiquity, and within the Bible Jonah ends abruptly and Acts ends with Paul still alive and his legal case unresolved. To paraphrase Demetrius (whom Schnabel quotes), some points need to be worked out be the hearers themselves (22-23).

Schnabel disregards William Wrede’s hypothesis of Mark’s “Messianic secret.” If there is nothing messianic about Jesus or his ministry, then there is no explanation for his death, nor is there any explanation as to how his disciples transformed their “unmessianic master into the Messiah after Easter” (25).

Mark does not have a “vendetta” against the disciples (29), but merely gives an “unvarnished” (aka, authentic) look at their pre-resurrection responses to Jesus (30). Nobody imagined a Messiah who would die, and though on occasion Jesus does rebuke the disciples, he often explains himself to them.

Schnabel divines Mark into four pairs of three’s:

  1. The Beginning of the Gospel (1.1–13)
    1. Heading (1.1)
    2. Jesus and John the Baptist (1.2–8)
    3. Jesus declared Son of God and conflict with Satan (1.9–13)
  2. Jesus’ Messianic Authority (1.14–8.21)
    1. The kingdom of God and Jesus’ authority (1.14–3.6)
    2. The Twelve and the kingdom of God (3.7–6.6)
    3. The Mission of Jesus Messiah and the Twelve (6.6–8.21)
  3. Jesus’ Messianic Suffering (8.22–15.47)
    1. The revelation of the Messiah’s suffering (8.22–10.52)
    2. The confrontation in Jerusalem (11.1–13.37)
    3. The suffering and death of Jesus Messiah (14.1–15.47)
  4. Jesus’ Resurrection Announced (16.1–8)
    1. The women at Jesus’ tomb (16.1–5)
    2. The announcement of Jesus’ resurrection (16.6–7)
    3. The reaction of the women (16.8)

Interpretations

4:10–12: Jesus tells parables to conceal the kingdom of God from outsiders. They are intentionally veiled. Many cannot see or hear the kingdom of God in Jesus’ miracles, exorcisms, and through his teachings. Judgement will come because they do not want to truly listen to God (13.1–37). Schnabel interprets through the lens of the kingdom of God that has come in Jesus (1.14–15).

6:49–50: Jesus’ “I am” statement (see also 14.62) is not a declaration of divinity.

7:24–30: Having just taught his disciples about what is clean and unclean (vv. 14–23), Jesus enters “unclean” Gentile territory. Jesus doesn’t “change his mind” when the Syro-Phoenician woman gives the right answer; rather, she passes his test. She (a Gentile “dog”) can eat the crumbs under the table simultaneously while the children (Israel) are eating. Though Jews generally saw dogs as unclean, “dog” (kynarion) here is a pet “present at a meal in the house” (173). This Gentile woman has more spiritual discernment than the Jewish leaders.

8:1–10: Mark is not repeating himself here; this is not the same event as in 6.30–44. Jesus is in Gentile territory (Isa 25.6; 49.6; Acts 1.8; 2.39).

13:24–27: Jesus’ second coming is at a separate, indeterminate time from 13.1–23. Jesus no longer focuses on the city of Jerusalem, the local councils, or even the seasons (winter, v. 18), but on “the sun, the moon, the stars, the clouds, the ends of the earth and the ends of heavens” (330).

14:35–36: Jesus “does not have inner doubts about the value of his death. Jesus’ prayer to be spared death conveys the excruciating anguish that senses the terrible reality of suffering the judgment of God, dying as a ransom for the many (10:45), shedding his blood to seal the new covenant (14:24), dying as a sin offering (Rom 8:3), becoming the place of God’s atoning presence (Rom 3:25), becoming a curse for us (Gal 3:13) ” (364).

14:51–52: Whoever this young man is, he shows that all have forsaken Jesus. In terror, the young lad would prefer to be shamefully naked and save his own skin than to be caught being with Jesus.

Schnabel provides much good historical and factual information on various people (Pilate, p. 394-95; the Sanhedrin, p. 373), places (Jerusalem, p. 261), and the timing of the Passover (350-51). Some of these details seem a bit much, such as the possible “House of Peter (1.29–31), heights of various mountains in Israel, and how a clay lamp was made in Galilean workshops (4.21). It can make the text seem too busy, and I personally think some of these details would work better as footnotes. Still, his points on why people go “up” to Jerusalem (247), just how the friends could dig their way through the roof of a house (65), or who Barabbas was (400), help make sense of the text. Schnabel is a careful exegete and historian. 

Unfortunately, there are no indices in this volume (or in any of the Old and New Testament series).

Recommended?

I’ve read (chunks of) quite a few Markan commentaries. Schnabel’s volume isn’t going to break new ground, but he is trustworthy when it comes to biblical exegesis and exposition. He keeps the Gospel’s context in view in his theology sections, making sure that he doesn’t interpret something apart from anything else Mark has said, and points to Christ as our one and true Savior whose death ransomed sinners and inaugurated the new covenant. The pastor, student, Bible college teacher, and layperson would be filled with this huge 441 page meal.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Eckhard J. Schnabel
  • Series: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Book 2)
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (June 6, 2017)

Buy it on Amazon 

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

1 Comment

Filed under Biblical Studies, Biblical Theology, Book Reviews, Jesus and the Gospels, Mark

Book Review: John (CFP), William Cook

John Jesus Christ is God Cook Review

Professor of New Testament Interpretation (2000) at SBTS, William F. Cook III serves as the Lead Pastor at Ninth and O Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. After a brief introduction (6 pages compared to Klink’s 54), Cook lays out John’s Gospel, the “mature reflections of the last living apostle,” in 36 chapters (p. 7). This volume (and series) is written to the non-specialist, the lay person, and even the pastor who wants an easy read (for once) through a commentary while he is preparing.

Interpretations

Favors two temple cleansings. Here, Jesus, the new temple, is “arriving at the temple for the first time since inaugurating His messianic ministry (Mal. 3:1)” (50).

Cook frequently points out how often key words occur in John. Many of these words occur so frequently, we often miss themes sitting directly in front of us!

  • The theme of “water” (2:1–11; 4:7–14; 5:1–7; 6:16–21; 7:37–39; 9:6–7; 13:1–11; 19:34).
  • The word “must” suggests divine necessity (3:14, 30; 4.4; 9:4; 10:16; 12:34; 20:9).
  • “To follow” (1:43; 8:12; 10:27; 12:26; 21:19-20).
  • The title “Son of Man” (13x)
  • “Eternal” (17x).
  • God’s initiative in salvation (6:37b, 44; 10:29; 17:6; 18:9).
  • John 3.16 is John’s first use of the word “love” out of 36 total times.

Cook sees the idea of newness early on in John’s Gospel. In John 1.47–51, Jesus is the one who connects heaven to earth. He is greater than Jacob as ‘the new Israel’ (38). “Jesus is described as inaugurating a ‘new age’ (2:1-12) and being the ‘new temple’ (2:13-25). Here [in John 3], Jesus explains to a leading rabbi the absolute necessity of a ‘new birth’” (55). 

6.16–21: Jesus, sovereign over the world created by him and through him, walks on the water, something said only about God alone in the Old Testament (Pss 77.16–20; 107.28–30). Also, the boat immediately arrives at land after Jesus walks on water. “If it is considered a miracle, it is a likely allusion to Psalm 107:23-32. Yet, if it is a miracle, John does not make much of it (6:21)” (111).

6:22-71: Just as Jesus talked about the two kinds of water in John 4, here he talks about two kinds of food. “Those who drink the ‘living water will never thirst’ (4:14), and those who eat the heavenly bread will live forever (6:51)” (114)

  • Jesus uses ‘truly, truly’ several times indicating the significance of His words (6:26, 32, 47, 53).
  • He makes repeated references to being the source of life (6:35, 40, 47, 48, 50, 51).
  • the importance of faith (6:35, 40, 47, 51).
  • the thought of a future bodily resurrection – ‘raise up on the last day’ (6:39, 40, 44, 54).
  • Jesus’ teaching on eating his flesh and blood (6.22-71) does not concern the Lord’s Supper.

7.53-8.11: Cook agrees with the wide swath of biblical (even evangelical) scholarship who say that John did not write this passage. It is not found in any manuscript earlier than the fifth century, the earliest church fathers make no mention of it, but instead move from 7.52 to 8.12, no Eastern church father before the tenth century comments on this story, and, when the story does begin to show up in manuscripts of John’s Gospel, it appears after 7.36, 7.44, 21.25, and even after Luke 21.38! Cook treats this section as a historical event, without trying to imply either Johannine authorship or canonical authority.

10.34-36: Jesus’ use of Psalm 82.6 and “gods” refers to Israel’s leaders (judges).

17.1-26: Forms of the verb “to give” in John 17 are used 17x. God has given Jesus the authority to give eternal life to those given to Him by the Father (17:2). “Believers are God’s gift to His Son” (252).

Recommended?

With study questions after each chapter, this volume, along with all of the other ones I have read in this series, is useful for the pastor, teacher, Bible study leader, and the layperson. Cook doesn’t cover every verse; that is not his intention. Cook gives his readers a panorama shot of John’s Gospel. Of what use are details when you don’t understand how John intends those details to be read? A knowledge of details requires a knowledge of John’s overarching presentation of Jesus, the son of God, the Word, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, and that information is packaged in just under 300 pages. This is quite shorter than many other commentaries on John, but still meaty enough to be worth your time.

Lagniappe

Buy it from Amazon

Disclosure: I received this book free from Christian Focus Publishing. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

1 Comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Jesus and the Gospels

Book Review: John (ZECNT), Edward Klink

John (ZECNT) Klink Review

The Gospel of John is a favorite among many. Rather than reading short bits of narrative with generally short teachings, John is filled with long teachings and little narrative (take John’s Farewell Discourse, which extends from John 13-17!). John is shallow enough for a child to understand, but deep enough for scholars to spit out huge tomes and never know all that John means. Since each generation needs fresh exegesis, Edward Klink has given us his interpretation of John’s Gospel in the new ZECNT series. Klink reveals his theological cards early on in his 54 page introduction:

“‘Scripture’ is a shorthand term for the nature and function of the biblical writings in a set of communicative acts which stretch from God’s merciful self-manifestation to the obedient hearing of the community of faith.” While such language might not be common vernacular in an introduction to an exegetical commentary, it should be, for the object of interpretation demands to be treated according to its true and sacred nature. Not to treat this Gospel as Scripture is itself a form of eisegesis, and it is a disobedient hearing of the (canonical) text’s own claim and of the God by whom it was authored. (25)

Klink notes that the Scriptures have their own genre—holy Scripture. The way God (or, here, the Gospel) speaks determines how we read Scripture:

  1. The Gospel speaks in time-and-space history, and history must remain subservient to the God of creation.
  2. The Gospel speaks in literary form, and the words must stay subservient to the Word.
  3. The Gospel speaks about the things of God, and theology must be defined by the person and work of God himself, the true subject matter of the things of God. (25)

Our doctrine of Scripture guides us to see God through “the work and person of Jesus Christ by the empowering Holy Spirit” (31).

Klink doesn’t try to historically reconstruct the event of John’s Gospel (besides John 2.1–11), because “each Gospel must be interpreted for the individual Gospel’s role or contribution to the one gospel, not in a manner that combines their events but in a manner that prepares to hear in unison their individual roles in the symphony of the gospel” (36).

Klink says (rightly) that the Bible is not a window to what is inspired; it “is the locus of revelation” (29). Our texts do refer to historical people, places, and events, but rather than seeing the Bible as a window to the inspired events, in God’s Word “God is giving divine commentary on his own actions in history” (29). “The meaning is derived from the text which speaks about an event” (34).

Commentary Divisions

The ZECNT commentaries divide each section into seven parts: Literary Context, Main Idea, Translation and Graphical Layout, Structure, Exegetical Outline, Explanation of the Text, and Theology in Application. I giver a fuller explanation of each section on my review of Grant Osbourne’s Matthew volume. Though I don’t always find the Translation and Graphical Layout section to be helpful, each of the other sections, especially the Main Idea (which compresses the passage into a brief sentence) and the Theology in Application (and which brings out helpful insights), are extremely useful.

Klink’s Interpretations

I can’t rehearse all Klink says, but here is a taste.

1.1: “The Word” is not common in the NT as a reference to Christ. John explains his use of the term throughout John’s whole Gospel (87).

Klink distinguishes historical contexts, narrative contexts, and cosmological contexts. In 7.27-28, Klink says

The reverberations from the prologue are crying out to the reader, who is well aware that Jesus is the Word-become-flesh, the light of humanity, the one “from above,” who was “in the beginning” with God. The cosmological identity of Jesus, so visible to the reader, remains completely veiled to the Jerusalemites. The one these interlocutors call “this man” the reader has been told is “God” from the very beginning of the Gospel (1:1). (370)

In the historical sense, the Jewish leaders know his physical ancestral lineage. In the cosmological sense, “they have no idea who he is or whose ancestral lineage they have challenged by their unbelief,” and within the narrative, Jesus rebukes their unbelief and prideful opposition to him. They should know better.

12.40:God is the cause of the unbelieving response to Jesus, not merely the judge of it. If the depiction of God as the cause of unbelief makes God look unjust, we must look not for resolution in the doctrine of God alone but in the presentation of God provided by his Son, Jesus Christ, who perfectly exemplifies the mercy and grace of God” (560). 

John 17: The pericope of John 17 “concludes Jesus’s farewell speech by setting the theological (cosmological) context of Jesus’s entire ministry and the work God will continue to do” (705).

Other Matters

Outside sources?

In his section on “Text Verses Event” (34-36), Klink says the location of revelation “is not the event behind the text but the text as Scripture, so that revelation is located in the text in a manner that includes not only the recorded account but also the interpretation . . . of the account” (34). As he goes on to argue, the author has included specific events, themes, and words for a reason, and as well that same author has decided not to include other events, themes, and words.

Klink says “To try to reconstruct what is not revealed in Scripture, unless the text gives implicit warrant, potentially creates a different story than the narrative.” (35). The author has already given us his perspective on the event in his narrative; why go looking for another perspective?

While I agree that “There is no better place from which to access what is real and true than from the words of Scripture,” and that “the reader is actually in a preferred position, beyond even those who were present at the historical event,what does this mean when it comes to using other documents to place the text in its historical timeframe (36)? Is it to the scholar’s detriment to use ANE documents to understand the thinking of the ancient Israelite? How much of the intertestamental period are we to (or not to) understand?

I am in much agreement with what Klink says here, but because he doesn’t give a specific example as to what he means (such as those seen in my questions above), I’m not sure how far to take what he says. Right now it appears to me that it is helpful to read historical documents (such as the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Greek and Roman writings, etc.) to situate us in the 1st century AD thought-world with the knowledge that Scripture is the revelation from God and of God.  

Recommended?

There are an enormous amount of commentaries on John, do we, do you, need another one? I’ll be honest, I haven’t read most of them, but “every generation must exegete Scripture in and for the church” (11). Klink emphasizes the use of one’s imagination (cf. John 7.1–13), and this is something that many theologians, commentators, interpreters, pastors, and Bible teachers need to learn (myself included). Imagination is required both in application and in interpretation. Klink’s commentary reminds me of Mark Seifrid–by looking at the text as a whole unit within the whole canon, Klink is able to see through and around the exegetical issues. He brings in nuances and twists of words (3.5–7). Klink is a humble interpreter, and he has written this volume primarily for pastors, bible teachers, and students. I hope this volume will be read widely.

Lagniappe

Previous Posts

Posts from Zondervan

Buy it on Amazon

Disclosure: I received this book free from Zondervan. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

5 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Jesus and the Gospels

The Farewell Discourse (John 13-17)

John ZECNT Klink Review

What is Jesus’ farewell discourse and why did John place it in his Gospel? The farewell discourse has a long history of interpretation, and Klink sets out to place this substantial discourse into its proper literary place in John. In his commentary on John, Edward Klink suggests that there are four substantial monologues in John’s Gospel:

  1. The Identity of (the Son of) God (5:19–47)
  2. The Shepherd and the Sheep (10:1–21)
  3. The Hour has Come (12:20–50)
  4. The Farewell Discourse (13:31–16:33)

All four of these monologues occur during Jesus’ public ministry. The monologues “provide robust insight into the identity of Jesus and the work given to him from the Father.”1 As well, the monologues carry along the plot, “depicting in great detail God’s own argument and explication of his person and work in the world.”2 In one way, the farewell discourse is just another monologue, but Klink argues that the farewell discourse is much more complex than that. It is not a typical monologue. “Like the Gospel as a whole, the farewell discourse employs ‘a composite of various literary forms.’”3

Klink refers to the farewell discourse as “bilingual”— it is a dialect of the testament genre (see below), and it speaks with several other Jewish and Greco-Roman literary idioms.

The Testament

Most scholars agree that the farewell discourse illustrates a common literary pattern called a testament. Testaments are found in the OT in the farewell and blessing of Jacob to his children (Gen 47:29–49:33), Joshua’s farewell to Israel (Josh 22–24), and David’s farewell speech (1 Chr 28–29), and even the book of Deuteronomy.4 We can see a larger use of the testament genre in the intertestamental period with the pseudepigraphical work Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs.

Klink quotes Raymond Brown on the origins of the testament genre: “The common situation is that of a great man who gathers together his followers (his children, his disciples, or the people) on the eve of his death to give them instructions that will help them after his departure.”5 John’s farewell discourse has many parallels with “farewell” speeches, but there is more going on here than just a testament. Klink describes two other “pressures” that distinguish the farewell discourse from the testament genre.

Dynamic Movement

Relying on the observations of Parsenios, Klink notes that the farewell discourse relies on “dynamic movement”:

In the standard testamentary farewell scenes, there are no exits; the speakers typically wait for death to come to them on a deathbed (see e.g., Gen 49:33). In the Fourth Gospel, by contrast, the entire farewell discourse, stretching from 13:1–18:1, is centered around two dynamic exits, that of Judas at 13:30 and that of Jesus, announced at 14:31 and executed at 18:1 . . . . These exits are readily recognizable in ancient drama, however, where exits and entrances profoundly affect narrative development.6

Exits can create a frame around a scene or a specific character (like an inclusio) to emphasize a certain theme or teaching.7

Ancient Consolation

Consolation literature used “therapeutic methods” to console their audience, and usually so because of an impending death. Klink lists three main functions of consolatory literature.

  1. With the knowledge that the beloved speaker will be departing, a replacement is offered to the remaining group. It is through this replacement “the departed figure remains present. In John the replacement is ‘another paraclete’ (14:16), who is the functional presence of Jesus for his disciples (14:18 – 21).”8
  2. The sorrow that would come from such a loss (e.g., think of the sudden loss of a parent, spouse, child, or friend) is preempted because it is predicted beforehand. Because of this the disciples can prepare themselves for their future loss of Jesus. “In John the departure of Jesus and the trials to follow are clearly articulated and explained (15:18 – 16:4).”
  3. Those who are left (i.e., the disciples) are encouraged to remain faithful since the pain of grief can lead one to give up hope and abandon one’s task. “In John the disciples of Jesus are exhorted to remain and bear fruit (15:1 – 16).”9

Not only does the farewell discourse proper (13:31 – 16:33) offer all three of these consolatory elements, but befitting ancient consolation even further, the entire farewell section of the Gospel (13:1–17:26) also contains the opening context of a symbolic meal (13:1–30) and a closing “prayer of departure” (17:1 – 26).10

The Reason for the Farewell Discourse

By the time Jesus gives his farewell discourse, his public ministry has ended. He “gathers his intimate disciples around a symbolic meal and instructs them for the last time concerning his person and work and their corporate identity and work as his disciples.”11 Jesus will soon be leaving. He will be beaten, mocked, and crucified, but he knows he will be resurrected and will ascend to the Father. “Jesus addresses their questions and fears, but he also exhorts them to stay the course, which involves remaining in him by the Spirit.”12 With his death on the horizon, “Jesus uses the farewell discourse to explain what is to come and where he must go.”13

Although he will be gone, Jesus explains his departure in two ways.

1. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the only way to the Father, and in his absence he prepares a place for his disciples (14.3–6). He provides the route—the path—they will take by pouring out his Spirit upon them to walk in the way of the Lord—to die to themselves and serve others. He leaves so that the disciples can eternally be with the Christ and the Father whom no one has ever seen.

2. Jesus’ absence “allows him to be more fully present with his disciples (14:18; 16:7).”14

Only after his departure will he and the Father come and make their home with them (14:23), enabling the disciples to do greater works (14:12), to pray effectively by the use of his name (14:13–14; 16:23–24), and to be intimately united with him (15:1–11), having his peace (14:27) and sharing in his suffering (15:18–21) and ultimately his victory (16:33).15

The future is bright, though it must first be darkened. What is to come is good and necessary. It is part of God’s plan and mission to the whole world (Gen 12.1–3). The farewell discourse is given to guide Jesus’ disciples through the dark skies of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and death to his post-resurrection appearance and after his ascension to the Father. There will be a “new dispensation of God and his people,” which will now include Gentiles into the one who is the true vine (John 15:1).16

Outline for the Farewell Discourse

The discourse proper consists of six significant and developing thematic statements by Jesus . . . that are framed by what is functionally a prologue (13:31–38) and an epilogue (16:25–33).

The Farewell Discourse (13.1–17.26)

A. Introduction: The Love of Jesus (13.1–30)

B. The Farewell Discourse (13.31–16.33)

Prologue (13.31–38)

STATEMENT 1: “I Am the Way and the Truth and the Life” (14.1–14)

STATEMENT 2: “I Will Give You the Paraclete” (14.15–31)

STATEMENT 3: “I Am the True Vine” (15.1–17)

STATEMENT 4: “I Have Also Experienced the Hate of the World” (15.18–27)

STATEMENT 5: “I Will Empower You by the Paraclete” (16.1–15)

STATEMENT 6: “I Will Turn Your Grief into Joy” (16.16–24)

Epilogue (16.25–33)

C. Conclusion: The Prayer of Jesus (17.1–26)


1 Klink, 58.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., 571.

4 “The entire book of Deuteronomy can rightly be described as Moses’s farewell speeches to Israel” (571). Both Deuteronomy and John demonstrate their respective covenants “between God and his people (Deuteronomy, the old covenant; John, the new covenant)” (571).

5 Ibid., 572.

6 Ibid.

7 Judas’ exit in John 13:30 signals “that what follows is the beginning of the farewell discourse, with its conclusion signaled again when Jesus himself exits at 18:1” (572).

8 Ibid., 573.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Klink, 574.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

14 Klink, 575.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid.


John ZECNT Klink Review

Buy John (ZECNT) from Zondervan or Amazon!

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

1 Comment

Filed under Biblical Studies, Biblical Theology, Jesus and the Gospels

Book Review: The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant (Michael Gorman)

Discussions on the atonement are never-ending, and it’s only getting harder to keep up. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but where ought one start? Michael Gorman, author of numerous books (Reading Revelation Responsibly, Becoming the Gospel, Inhabiting the Cruciform God, Apostle of the Crucified Lord, etc), has written “a (not so) new model of the atonement.” This model argues for

a more comprehensive, integrated, participatory, communal, and missional model than any of the major models in the tradition. It overcomes the inherent rift in many interpretations of the atonement between the benefits  of Jesus’ death and the practices of participatory discipleship  that his death both enables and demands. I contend throughout the book that in the New Testament the death of Jesus is not only the source , but also the shape , of salvation. It therefore also determines the shape of the community—the community of the new covenant—that benefits from and participates in Jesus’ saving death. (4)

Throughout the book, Gorman presents connections between Christ’s atonement, the new covenant inaugurated by his blood, and the way the church community participates in his death and suffering while looking forward to the day of resurrection. One of Gorman’s focuses is how Christ’s new-creational people participate in faithfulness, love, and peace (4).

Throughout the New Testament, faith, as a practice, is about faithfulness even to the point of suffering and death; love, as a practice, has a distinctive, Christlike shape of siding with the weak and eschewing domination in favor of service; and hope, as a practice, means living peaceably (which includes nonviolently) and making peace. Thus the summary triad “faithfulness, love, and peace” is appropriate. (4-5)

Gorman isn’t concerned to interact with other interpretations of the atonement, nor with the “mechanics” of the atonement or the atonement theories. Rather than diving into how it works, Gorman wants to portray what it does in the lives of believers. Gorman claims, “The New Testament is much more concerned about what Jesus’ death does for and to humanity than how it does it.” (5).

Outline

  • Chapters one overviews the lack of the “new covenant” theme in traditional and recent discussions of the atonement. Gorman puts forth that new covenant texts and themes had a farther-reaching effect that many scholars give credit, and that the new covenant is the atonements umbrella theme.

The preceding chapters explore the ways Christ’s death both effected and affected the new covenant.

  • Chapters 2 and 3 bring together the cross and the new covenant by surveying the NT books, revealing how we participate in Christ’s death through baptism.
  • Participating in Christ’s death means a different way of living for the Christian. Chapter four examines faithfulness to God, chapter 5—loving others, and chapters 6 and 7—peacemaking—what the covenant does and how it shows up in our communities.
  • Chapter 8 is Gorman’s conclusion. “The cross shapes each of these aspects of Christian thought and life, weaving them together into a comprehensive and integrated whole” (209). The new covenant’s effects are multi-dimensional; Gorman views this new covenantal model as the umbrella model which houses the other “penultimate” models. There is no “one” view, as many of them emphasize different aspects of the atonement. Though I would think of it more as a hierarchy, with some (penal substitution) deserving greater (and not lesser) emphasis than others.

Gorman argues for a kind of theosis, saying that the Christian life/community is a “transformative, communal participation in the life of God as the new covenant people of God” (68). Belief in Jesus is not merely an intellectual assent. Instead, “his story will become [our] story” (87). We live out his story daily. In writing about Revelation 1.5-6, Gorman says, “Those liberated from sin by Jesus’ death (the cross as the source of salvation) are now shaped into faithful witnesses, even to the point of suffering and death (the cross as the shape of salvation)” (103). John reminds the churches that he is their brother and fellow participant in both the tribulation and the kingdom (Rev 1.9).

The Spoiled Milk

Gorman has helpful comments about the new covenant and a supersessionist/anti-Judaism belief. He says, “the idea of a new covenant does not make sense except, first of all, as a category of Jewish identity and theology” (23). This promise was given to the Jewish people first, and the Gentiles were allowed to be grafted in (Rom 11). Gentile Christians must not forget the Jewish origins of Christianity (i.e., Jesus was a Jew). However, in some places Gorman seems to downplay the “newness” of the new covenant (23, 214). There is no need to disparage the “old covenant,” but Paul said that the old one has been abolished and done away with (see here) because the glory of the new is so much better (2 Cor 3.7–11). Though, perhaps I have simply misunderstood Dr. Gorman’s arguments.

Recommended?

Whether or not one agrees with all Gorman has said here, this book is an excellent resource for those who are interested in the new covenant, the atonement, and the outflow of new-covenant living (peace, faithfulness, love). We were once an enemy of God, and he has now made peace with us so that we can be his eternally adopted children. Should that not play out in our own lives? This would be beneficial required reading in seminary classrooms, for students, for pastors, and for teachers. This would make a good pair with Adam Johnson’s Atonement: A Guide for the Perplexed, which surveys the many atonement models and looks at how they emphasize a true aspect of Christ’s work.

Lagniappe

  • Paperback: 292 pages
  • Publisher: James Clarke/Lutterworth (June 30, 2014)
  • Language: English

Buy it from Amazon or James Clarke/Lutterworth

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lutterworth/James Clarke. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

1 Comment

Filed under Biblical Studies, Biblical Theology, Book Reviews, Jesus and the Gospels, Paul

John’s Prologue

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort” (The Hobbit).

The beginnings of narratives provide us clues, a purpose. They can lead us to expect one thing before unveiling the blinders on our eyes. They provide pivotal information for the rest of the story. If you read The Lord of the Rings, but skip The Fellowship of the Ring, you will be lost in Isengard without a compass.

The beginning of The Hobbit reveals that hobbits, like humans, love comfort. But as the story goes on, this hobbit, in particular, remains in no such cozy hobbit holes. He will later find himself stranded in such holes in which the ends of worms and oozy smells would bring him the greatest delight if he could see them only once more. Anything beats dragon breath.

John’s prologue is a guide to the remainder of his Gospel. If you miss this, you’ll be as lost as John’s characters. In his commentary on John, Edward Klink says that in ancient Greco-Roman writings, “prologues were often used to introduce the important characters in the narrative, situate them within the story, and give some understanding of their importance” (84). Prologues explained the “seen” and “unseen” forces that were at play throughout the drama.

Morna Hooker explains that prologues provided “vital information that would enable [the audience] to comprehend the plot, and to understand the unseen forces — the desires and plans of the gods — which were at work in the story” (84). Rather than reveal the plans of the Gods, John explains “the desires and plans of the God” (84). 

The prologue is not mere background information, for it is a guide to the drama. With John’s story of Jesus, “the reader is provided with comprehensive inside information about the origins, identity, and mission of ‘the Word’ (1:1, 14), a figure subsequently described as Jesus Christ (1:17)…. John’s Prologue places the reader in a position of privilege while the characters in the narrative remain in the dark” (Skinner, 9-10).

John’s prologue is not mere theological abstraction that comes right out of the ether. It is connected to the real events that take place throughout the drama. It explains the “unseen” forces in the midst of the “seen.” If Jesus is the unique Son of God, why do so few believe him, and why do so many of Israel’s leaders want to kill him?  He [the “true light”] was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (Jn 1.10–11). “The prologue is guiding the reader to see the invisible (God) in the visible (historical persons and events)” (Klink, 85). 

There are two strands in John’s plot: the visible and the invisible. The first strand is the historical setting. Jesus, a real person, comes to tabernacle among God’s people in first-century Israel. In the second strand, “The setting of this second story is not Palestine in the first century but the cosmos in eternity itself. Interestingly, the cosmological story is the very first thing introduced to the reader” (85). It is in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus where both strands reach their climax. Jesus is the stairway to heaven, greater than what Jacob saw. He will ascend to the very real Father and send his very real Spirit to his physical disciples who will preach the message of the King who forgives sins.


Buy John (ZECNT) from Zondervan or on Amazon!

1 Comment

Filed under Biblical Studies, Jesus and the Gospels

Review Lecture: Mark’s Gospel (Rikk Watts)

Rikk Watts is a full-time teacher at Regent College, and is known for his work on the Gospel of Mark and his book Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark. He wrote the 100,000 word contribution on Mark to Carson and Beale’s Commentary on the NT Use of the OT [CNTUOT] and will be replacing Lane’s volume on Mark in the NICNT series. And word on the street says Watts is writing two books: Jesus and the Mighty Deeds of Yahweh (lecture here) and Heaven on Earth: an Introduction to the Christian Vision.

This is the second of Watts’ lectures that I’ve been able to review (see my review on Isaiah). This time I wanted to learn about Mark from one of the experts. I’ve been interested in Mark’s Gospel ever since I co-taught it at CCBC York in 2014. Ever since then I’ve stocked up on a number of commentaries, anticipating when Watts’ volume will see the light of day. I had the pleasure of partnering with Lindsay Kennedy (see his review of Watts’ class lectures here) in one of his Mark classes last fall and I found Watts to be extremely helpful in understanding Mark’s message.

Mark

As I’ve mentioned before, in his book Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark, Watts opens up Scripture to the reader to see how Mark wrote his Gospel around Jesus’ fulfilling of (can you guess?) Isaiah’s Second Exodus. While I have yet to read INEM, Watts’ contribution to Carson and Beale’s CNTUOT convinced me to his position. His contribution is packed full of both grammatical and theological information, which seems like Watts is full of “heady” information about God and his Word. Yet listening to Watts’ is an entirely different experience. While his genius still comes out, his application comes straight from the principles of the text.

What relevance does a 2,000 year old Gospel have for us today? To pray like Jesus we must live sacrificial lives where we pick up our crosses to serve humbly (9.28; 10.45). I am to cut off that which causes me to sin. How do I see other people and how do I treat them? Do I humiliate them? Do I regard them as nothing? Or do I give them the most importance? Watts application cuts to the quick, and it’s the kind of application we need. Watts proves that a deep study and understanding of the Bible and a heartfelt relationship with God are not mutually exclusive.

Watts looks at Mark’s Gospel as being both a masterful work of literature. He is aware of how words and phrases are used throughout Mark. A “marketplace” seems like such an obscure word, but Watts sees that Jesus, the true Shepherd (6.34) and glorious Lord who walks on water (6.48), heals the sick in a marketplace (6.56). It was in the first exodus where Israel found out they were supposed to be holy, and here, following the New Exodus theme, Jesus teaches the marketplace Pharisees (7.4) about true holiness. He is the healing glorious Lord, and those who follow him are both holy and to live holy lives that honor him.

Watts also looks at Mark’s Gospel as being a historical document about the true living Son of God. And because these characters are real and situations tense, Watts uses this understanding to explain why Jesus does what he does. For example, in Mark 14 Jesus sends two disciples to find a man carrying a jar of water (which would be rare). They are to follow him and talk to him about something “the Teacher” has said. Watts believes it is pre-arranged (the room would already be furnished and ready, v15), and given that Jesus is a wanted man (the Jewish leaders were trying to trap him in Mark 12), it makes sense that Jesus would work in the shadows. He still had to have one last meal with his disciples before he picked up his cross.

Watts believes the Gospel of Mark was written by Mark, before 70 AD. Unlike his Isaiah class, Watts’ doesn’t delve much into the views of other scholars, and when he does his discussion is brief. That being said, he doesn’t always finish class where he intends and often runs out of time only to have to catch up in the next class. He always makes it work out well, but I was disappointed with his treatment of Mark 13. It’s an extremely difficult passage for many Christians and scholars, and I was hoping to hear a thorough (as far as is possible in a classroom setting) of Mark 13. Watts reads all of Mark 13 as having to do with 70 AD, and I especially wanted to hear about 13.26 (“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory”). Instead, because of the way Watts spaced out the other classes, Mark 13 had to be split between two classes (Lectures 11 and 12) with both parts being rushed.

Though not a major downside, I was disappointed that the Mark lectures didn’t come with a handout like the Isaiah lectures did. The Isaiah handout PDF was 96 pages long. The Mark handout PDF is only 4 pages long (with a little bit extra on page 5). The handout for Isaiah helped hold my attention during the lectures as I was able to follow along while giving me plenty to look up after the lectures were finished. Since the lectures are not a book, it is difficult to go search and find the right spot where Watts speaks on a particular text. And since there is no handout, I would suggest that you take notes while listening to his lectures (though in my opinion, you should be taking notes anyway).

Conclusion

If I could ever recommend lectures on Mark, it would be ones taught by Rikk Watts. Watts certainly has a solid understanding of the Gospel of Mark. He is a biblical scholar who considers deeply both the biblical text, its teaching on God and his gracious character, and its application to our lives. Even though he rabbit trails a bit, Watts gives you plenty of good information to think about, and one can hear that he really loves the Lord. Watts studies God’s word and uses the Bible’s theology to shape his views on life so that he can teach us how we are to live before and serve our holy, loving, and glorious God.

Lagniappe

  • Speaker: Rikk Watts
  • Date: Winter 2014
  • Length: 27h 17m
  • Product ID: RGDL4404S

Previous Posts

  1. Was the Rich Young Man Really ‘Almost’ Righteous?
  2. Our Response to Parables

Outline

  1. Introduction; Prologue: Mark 1.1-13
  2. Prologue: Mark 1.1-13
  3. Mark 1.14-45
  4. Mark 1.2-3.35
  5. Mark 4.1-5.43
  6. Mark 6
  7. Mark 7.1-8.21
  8. Mark 8.22-9.13
  9. Mark 9.2-50
  10. Mark 10
  11. Mark 11.1-13.31
  12. Mark 13.32-16.8

Video

Classes

(Sometimes these are on discount at certain times of the year. Along with these Watts has quite a few free lectures). 

[Special thanks to Regent College for allowing me to review this class!]

1 Comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Jesus and the Gospels, Mark

Our Response to Parables

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been listening to Rikk Watts’ lectures on the Gospel of Mark. Watts is well-versed in Mark’s Gospel, and he’s currently writing a commentary on Mark in the NICNT series.

When it comes to the parables, there is a wide range of views on what Jesus was trying to convey. What is a parable? Is it pure allegory? Is there only one meaning? Are there multiple meanings? Many think that parables are an “earthly story with a heavenly meaning,” but that places too much of a dichotomy in Jesus’ words as if he had a Gnostic ideal where we were to shed our earthly self to reach our heavenly life.

In the Beginning…

We must first ask the question, “Why did Jesus speak in parables anyway? What purpose did they serve?” The first use of “parable” in Mark is in 3.23, “And [Jesus] called them to him and said to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan?’” Jesus poses this question against the Jerusalem leaders who believed that the miracles he performed were really the works of Satan.

In Isaiah 6 (esp. vv8-13), Isaiah’s call initiates the judgment that the people have brought on themselves (Isa 1-5). Because they have rejected Yahweh, Isaiah’s preaching would cause the hearts of Israel to be hard. In Mark, the Jerusalem leaders have called judgment upon themselves by grouping the actions of the Messiah with that of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.

Sowing the Word

In Mark 4 Jesus begins with the Parable of the Sower, which contained themes that would likely have been familiar to his audience. 4 Ezra 9.26-37 (a pseudepigraphical work) speaks about Yahweh sowing the law after the first exodus out of Egypt. The Jewish fathers received the Law from Yahweh, but they didn’t follow it. As a result, they went into judgment and exile (2 Kings 24-25) which would require a second exodus (Isa 40-55).

Watts argues that Mark shapes his Gospel around Isaiah’s second exodus, and here the words of Jesus, Yahweh in human form, are having the same affect as they did in the book of Isaiah. Those who reject Jesus will end up in exile (Mk 13) and judgment (Mt 25).

Listen!

In Mark 4.3, at the beginning of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus says, “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.”

Watts points out that Jesus doesn’t say “Listen!” often. The critical point is that you must listen, and if you don’t understand how this works, then you won’t understand how the others work (v13).

According to Watts, the point of the parables is: (1) to reveal the mystery of the Kingdom, and (2) to reveal the nature of JC’s hearers’ hearts. This is what the whole Gospel of Mark is doing. Mark is teaching his readers about the promised kingdom of God which is coming through the Son of Man (Dan 7.13-14, 15-27), and you are being shown whether or not you care as you read Mark’s Gospel. In reading and listening to his Gospel, Watts contends that we are being put on trial. How will we respond to Mark every time we read his Gospel?

The response to Jesus’ parables passes judgment on the hearers (e.g., David’s response to Nathan’s parable [2 Sam 12], Israel’s response to Isaiah’s vineyard parable [Isa 5]). Starting from the Garden of Eden, Israel has a long history of thinking they are better than they really are. They say, “I’ll trust God… as long as it makes sense.” Adam and Eve didn’t think God’s word made much sense when it came time to take their test (Gen 3.1-6). The same goes for Israel immediately after the Exodus (Ex 32.1).

However in Mark’s Gospel no one understands Jesus! Jesus doesn’t make sense. Even his disciples have trouble understanding him, yet they still follow him despite they’re lack of understanding. The only way to deal with your arrogance and self-reliance is to follow Jesus even when he doesn’t make sense.

Idolatry and Hard-Hearts

The nations ask, “Where is their God?” (Ps 115.2). And we reply, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps 115.3). “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Ps 135.6). Those who turn to and follow after lifeless idols become ones who cannot see, hear, nor speak.

Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.

They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.

They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.

They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.

Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.

(Ps. 115.4-8; cf. 135.15-18)

Rather than following lifeless idols and becoming like them, we follow the one who does whatever he pleases. We can be like him. He gave us his word for us to know and to use wisdom so that we may live in a way that glorifies him. Humans are made in the image of God, but when we worship idols, we lose our humanity. We lose our ability to perceive and know how to live.

Watts calls Christianity the true humanism. It is only by being Christians, by trusting in Jesus as our Savior, that we can be who we were truly created to be.

Screen Shot 2018-03-23 at 7.06.36 AM

Parables take away our security blankets. Parables show us what we really think about Jesus and his message.

Previous Posts

  1. Was the Rich Young Man Really ‘Almost’ Righteous?
  2. Review Lecture on ‘Mark’ 

1 Comment

Filed under Biblical Studies, Jesus and the Gospels, Mark

Was The Rich Young Man Really ‘Almost’ Righteous?

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you may remember my series on Rikk Watts’ lectures on Isaiah. Watts, NT lecturer at Regent College, is currently writing a commentary on Mark in the NICNT series. The focus of his dissertation was on Mark’s use of Isaiah’s second exodus (Isa 40-55; 56-66). Now I’ve been listening to Watts’ lectures on Mark, and when Watts taught on the rich young man in Mark 10.17-22, he took a different perspective from what I’ve always heard.

Growing up I’ve only heard one perspective on the rich young man. He was rich, he was young, and he was self-righteous. He didn’t really keep the whole Law. He simply wanted to pull-one over on Jesus, or at least he was so deceived he really thought he had kept the whole law. Yet Jesus sees straight through his facade. Knowing the young man is covetous and greedy, Jesus tells him that he must sell his belongings, those things that keep the rich man from Jesus, and follow Jesus so that he will have eternal life.

The Other Way

But Watts doesn’t think that’s what’s happening at all. Instead, Watts sees Mark presenting the rich young man in a positive light.

The rich young man “knelt before” Jesus and calls him “Good teacher” (v17). He’s not a scumbag. He believes that Jesus can tell him how he can have eternal life. And Jesus asks, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (v18). His answer to the rich man to follow him (and not Torah) implies that he is equating himself with Yahweh.

Jesus points first to the law and gives a list of commandments that the rich man should know: don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, don’t defraud, do honor your parents. But the rich man has kept all of these from his youth. While this sounds farfetched, Paul says that when it came to “righteousness under the law,” he was “blameless” (Phil 3.6b). This doesn’t mean Paul nor the rich man were perfect, but that they were faithful to God by keeping to the Jewish laws and sacrifices.

Good, You Lack One Thing

In verse 21, Mark doesn’t say, And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lie.’” Instead, Jesus says, “You lack one thing; go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” For the rabbis, “lacking nothing” was the mark of a truly righteous man. Jesus doesn’t require anyone else in Mark to do this. Why is this?

People can tell the difference between someone who wealthy and righteous and someone who is wealthy and rotten. For the Jews, keeping the law and having money was a genuine sign that someone was righteous. Watts believes this guy is being told to let go of his reliance on both Torah and all of the brownie points (material wealth) that testify to his being a truly righteous man from a Jewish point of view. He “kept the law and has shekels in the bank to prove it” (Watts, Lecture 10).

Watts says that if the rich young man really was selfish, the disciples would say, “Well, we know why he isn’t getting in. He’s selfish!“ They know about the oppressive wealthy (10.42), but here they are surprised! If this man has kept the law, he has money, but he can’t gain eternal life, what on earth can the disciples do?

But Many Who Are First…

But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (v31). This rich man, who is first in everyone’s eyes, is now last because he refuses to follow the one who is greater than the Torah, Jesus Christ. But the disciples, who were low in everyone’s else’s eyes, and who would become lower because they followed the one who would be crucified, will be first.

But how can this be? They are not the best disciples. They do not understand Jesus’ teachings (4.10). They’re hearts are hard (6.52). They care little about those whom Jesus cares much about (6.36-37). They do not yet understand (8.21), and Peter rebukes his Teacher (8.32). They can not cast out a demon (9.18), and they do not pray with a heart of humility (9.29). They all want to be on the top (9.34).

The disciples will have eternal life so long as they follow and listen to the Beloved Son of God (Mk 9.7) who was crucified for our sins (15.39) and was risen from the dead (16.6).

“With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (v27).

Previous Posts

  1. Our Response to Parables
  2. Review Lecture on ‘Mark’ 

3 Comments

Filed under Biblical Studies, Jesus and the Gospels, Mark

Daniel 7 and the Cloud Rider

GokuHasANewNimbus

Cloud Riders

One of the biggest threats to God’s people in the OT was another god called Baal. Israel was to be a monotheistic community, a group whose sole devotion was directed towards YHWH only. But as the pages of Scripture repeatedly tell us, Israel didn’t follow the rules.

Baal was the storm and fertility god. So if his followers needed crops, they would pray for rain and grain. In some ways it was easier to be polytheistic, at least for the placebo affect. You don’t just pray to one god because, really, how can one God do it all? So you pray to all gods to get all of your prayers fulfilled.

Yet Baal wasn’t just another face in the crowd. He was one of the higher deities in the polytheistic pantheon. And Israel like to worship him, especially since one form of worship involved sexual rituals. Who could say no to that?

In some of the texts of Ugarit, Israel’s northern neighbor, Baal is called “the one who rides the clouds.” It pretty much became his official title. LeBron James shoots hoops, Baal rides clouds.

Yet, it wasn’t just Baal who rode clouds. To turn all the attention back to Yahweh instead of Baal, the biblical authors “occasionally pilfered this stock description of Baal… and assigned it to Yahweh…” (251). 

There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty (Deut 33.26)

O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God; sing praises to the Lord, Selah
to him who rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; behold, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice (Ps 68.32-33)

Bless the Lord, O my soul!… He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire (Ps 104.1-4)

An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them (Isa 19.1)

“The effect was to… hold up Yahweh as the deity who legitimately rode through the heavens surveying and governing the world” (252).

Every instance in the OT where someone is riding the clouds, that “someone” is Yahweh. Except, there is… one exception. There is a second figure. A human figure. 

Daniel 7.13, The Lone Exception

Daniel 7.13 reads,

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

In the NT we find a number of connections to Jesus. A few are given below:

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” (Mk 2.10-11)

For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. (Lk 17.24-25)

“Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk 24.26)

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mk 14.61-62)

Here, “Caiaphas understood that Jesus was claiming to be the second Yahweh figure on Daniel 7:13 — and that was an intolerable blasphemy” (253). Along with these Son of Man texts, there are other connections with Jesus and clouds. 

And when [Jesus] had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. (Acts 1.9).

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. (Rev 1.9)

Some form of the Trinity was seen in the OT. Even the Jews around and before the first century were talking about “two powers in heaven.” Yet, once Christians began to elaborate on the Trinity, the Jews declared the “two powers” idea a heresy, and belief that still holds today among Jews.

So far we’ve only looked at these “two powers,” but what about the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit? Are the lines blurred with the Holy Spirit too? Heiser brings up a few texts, and I’ll look at them in my next post.

Outline

The Nephilim

Dividing the Nations

The OT Trinity

Buy it on Amazon!

UnseenRealmCover_Final-WEB

And also Heiser’s more condensed version,

supernatural

Buy it on Amazon!

1 Comment

Filed under Biblical Studies, Biblical Theology, Jesus and the Gospels

Book Review: Reading John (Christopher Skinner)

Skinner.ReadingJohn.78033
I’ve always had a hard time with reading the Gospel of John. I love the Gospels because Jesus is in them, but between the four Gospel, John is difficult for me. Pretty much everything Jesus says or does is enigmatic, and they way people respond to him can be just as confusing! I co-taught Mark a few semesters back, and since (and even before) John has been on the back burner with the Synoptics up in front.

When I heard about Skinner’s book Reading John, about a few of the reviews that praised it, and about how short it was I was interested to see if Skinner could teach me to read John.

Skinner teaches at and blogs at Cruxsolablog.

Summary

Chapter One is an outline of the rest of the book. Skinner is not blind to the fact that he sees “the Gospel of John not as it is, but as” he is (2). Skinner has his own lenses in which he reads John’s Gospel, and we all have ours. Despite laboring to be as objective as possible, he knows he still has his own life lenses. It is here where Skinner lays out his main goal: “Above all, I want to help others become better, more perceptive readers of the Gospel of John, with an ability to trace the rhetoric of the narrative from beginning to end” (2). If you take this to mean that you’ll see the flow of the entire Gospel, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Rather Skinner intends to give us the principles of John’s rhetoric so that we can figure out how to read the rest of John’s Gospel.

Chapter Two examines John’s prologue (1.1-18) and how it hints at themes that will be seen throughout the Gospel. After reading the first 18 verses, the readers already know more than the characters do.

Chapter Three shows us how to read John on two levels. Skinner is very good at bridging the cultural divide, and uses an example of Toy Story 3. On one level, TS3 is a fun movie for kids where Andy finally grows up and his toys need to feel like they are wanted. On another level, parents know that Andy represents their own children, and one day their children will grow up, leave home for college, and start off on their own journey. Here, “the Gospel of John tells the story of Jesus while also revealing the story of a community in crisis” (34).

Chapter Four is about the Jewishness and the presumed anti-Jewishness of John’s gospel. Many have used the Gospel of John to attack the Jews, saying they are the ones guilty of the death of Christ. Here Skinner illuminates the Jewish background of John by pointing out the Jewish characters, the Jewish settings, the Jewish Christological phrases (like “lamb of God”), and the Jewish feasts found throughout the Gospel. He shows how “the Jews” are viewed in John, both positively and negatively, and then raises a solution on how to work with the tension.

The focus of Chapter Five is to “examine closely the distinctiveness of Jesus’ speech” (70) giving attention to his I AM statements (including the seven well-known statements and more), the use of irony, double amen sayings, and literary asides (or parenthetical statements).

Chapter Six tells us that, besides Jesus, it is the characters’ actions, not the characters themselves, that are important. In fact, “almost every character exists to serve the narrator’s agenda, which is to clarify the gospel’s exalted Christology” (98). Peter is provided as a test case on how characters misinterpret Jesus.

Having all of this in mind, in Chapter Seven Skinner brings us through John 3. Nicodemus is introduced. He is male, a ruler, a named character, and comes to Jesus at night. Jesus speaks with double entendre, and Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, misunderstands all that the Jewish Jesus says, which, of course, is ironic. The narrator clarifies Jesus’ mission in vv16-21, using terms found in the Prologue (1.1-18).

Chapter Eight is a short postscript telling us how to read John theologically. Skinner says, “[The] Gospel of John ultimately speaks about God and to humanity in ways that remain universally important” (144).

The Spoiled Milk

There were a few issues I had with the book, but I’ll focus on one main view that I disagreed with. And though I disagreed with it, my main issue was a lack of argument/evidence for this view.

Skinner believes that not everything in the Gospel is historical, but is there to make a point. While I disagree, I also don’t think Skinner gives much evidence to back up this view. He says, “Often when I teach the Gospel of John, I find it necessary to point out that even though the gospel presents a sharp conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, such a conflict is historically unlikely. The Jesus movement was likely not big enough during Jesus’ lifetime for such a significant divide to have developed“ (64).

Why does John give his readers unhistorical stories about Jesus? It may very well be that the Gospel is a “theologically stylized narrative with historical roots, which most closely resembles Greco-Roman biography (bios)” (45). According to Skinner, the Johannine community (those receiving John’s gospel and letters) are Jewish and are being expelled from the synagogues by Jewish friends, relatives, and leaders for their belief in Christ. John writes his Gospel so that the Jewish Christians will see themselves in it. They are the “blind man” in John 9, and those who reject them are “the Jewish leaders” who can’t see who Jesus really is. In “narrative terms, ‘the Jews’ represent not any or all people of Jewish origin, but rather those who reject the revelation of God in and through Jesus” (65). Basically, there are only two sides: “those who accept Jesus and those who reject him” (65). I agree this is sentence is true, but I don’t agree that the conflicts in John are unhistorical.

There simply isn’t enough evidence or discussion to convince me of Skinner’s view. I’m no Johannine scholar, so I must remain as one of the “many casual readers of the Bible [who] assume that everything they read in the New Testament reflects ‘what actually happened’” (37).

Recommended?

Despite the above, yes, this book is well recommended. Though I don’t agree with all of Skinner’s points, this is truly an introductory book for John, and one that is written by a scholar. So often the introductory books are written as if you’ve spent years in research on the Bible, but Skinner brings the cookies down from the top shelf and shares his knowledge with everyone interested in the Gospel of John. This would be a good source for required reading in a John class.

But, the main question, did Skinner teach me how to read John? It’s still tough by far, but I would say he has succeeded in teaching me how to read John and in giving me a new interest in this neglected gospel. And that interest is the most important of all.

Lagniappe

Posts

  1. Irony in John’s Gospel
  2. Authentic Belief in John: Word vs Work

Buy it on Amazon

[Special thanks to Wipf & Stock for allowing me to review this book. I was not required to give a positive review in exchange for this book].

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Jesus and the Gospels

Authentic Belief in John: Word vs Work

What does John intend to teach us when Jesus tells Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”? In his book Reading John, Chris Skinner says that John is an example of those in the Gospel of John “who come to follow Jesus as a result of specific signs they have witnessed” versus “those who follow on the basis of Jesus’ word” (129).

Signs

When it comes to Jesus’ signs, many who choose to follow him because of his grand signs end up either falling away or misunderstanding his message.

In John 2, Jesus cleanses the temple in Jerusalem. Zeal for God’s house had consumed him (2.17; Ps 69.9).

In John 3, Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night (Jn 3.2; 1.5, 10). Nicodemus speaks to Jesus three times. The first time he relays knowledge that he and the other Pharisees know Jesus is a teacher form God, “for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Yet when Jesus answers him, Nicodemus doesn’t understand what Jesus means [see the post on Irony in John here].

In John 6, Jesus feeds 5,000 people. “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’” Verse 15 tells us Jesus withdrew from them because they wanted to make Jesus King (by force, at that). They didn’t understand his purpose (3.16-17).

Later, others follow him because they want to see a sign (6.26). Once Jesus says, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh,” it’s all over for most of his followers. Many of them turned away (6.66). They misunderstood his message.

John 12.37 says, “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him.“

Word

“On the other hand, those who act on or believe in Jesus’ word are the ultimate models of belief and faithfulness” (129).

In John 2 before Jesus has performed any signs, his mother (whose name is not given) tells the wedding servants to “do whatever he tells you” (2.5). No signs have yet been performed, yet she trusts his word. Later she is one of the women standing at his cross while all of the disciples but the Beloved have gone to hide.

In John 4 Jesus speaks to a nameless woman. One who had five previous husbands, and is with a sixth man who is not her husband. Besides the fact that she’s speaking with the true Husband (fulfilled by being #7?), Jesus, having performed no miraculous signs, says to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (4.21). In verse 25, of all people, this nameless, loose, Samaritan woman believes Jesus is the Messiah and goes out to tell others about this Messiah, “a man who told me all that I ever did.”

Thomas

What about Thomas? Thomas was not with the disciples when they first saw the resurrected Jesus. When they told Thomas about seeing Jesus, he wouldn’t believe them. He would only believe if he also saw Jesus. (For this, Thomas often gets a bum rap, but would we not have done the same?)

In 20.27 Jesus shows up on the scene and tells Thomas,

“Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20.27-29).

Thomas believed according to the sign of the nail and spear marks. Yet throughout John many (I haven’t reviewed at every case) either fell away from or misunderstood Jesus. How much greater is it to not have seen and yet believe?

What About the Purpose of John?

John 20.30-31 says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

If people who believed the signs misunderstood Jesus or fell away, why does John give us these seven signs? The difference between us and them is we are reading about the signs. They saw them. We have to make the choice between believing what we read, which includes believing Jesus’ words and his ability to perform miracles, or playing the part of Nicodemus misunderstanding what Jesus says.

Skinner.ReadingJohn.78033

Buy the Book on Amazon or at Wipf and Stock 

1 Comment

Filed under Biblical Studies, Jesus and the Gospels