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 24 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)

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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.

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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)

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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.

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The Center of the Center of the Center of the…

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.

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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).

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Review: Mark (TNTC), Eckhard Schnabel

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)

But it on Amazon or IVP Academic!

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.

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Book Review: John (CFP), William Cook

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 John (CFP) from Amazon or Christian Focus Publishing!

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.

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Book Review: John (ZECNT), Edward Klink

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

  • Series: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
  • Author: Edward W. Klink III
  • Hardcover: 976 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan (December 6, 2016)

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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.

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The Farewell Discourse (John 13-17)

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 JohnEdward 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.


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