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Book Review: The Fear of the Lord is Wisdom (Tremper Longman)

What is wisdom? Is it knowledge well applied? Is it ethical? Theological? Proverbs mentions the Lord, but is it more like a “Confuscious says” kind of idea which anyone can use, even pagans? In his book, Tremper Longman (the Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College) believes that the heart of wisdom is “the fear of the Lord.” Throughout his book, Longman, who has written numerous books and commentaries on wisdom literature, engages in “canonical interpretation” (181). No biblical book is an island, but each is to be interpreted among the rest in the canon. Thus Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job must agree. Even if there are major differences, there is no discord among them. Even more, “the Lord” in Proverbs is the covenantal God of Israel—Yahweh. To fear him is to know him and follow him within a covenantal relationship.

Section one looks at Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job (abbreviated as PEJ from now on), which, though wisdom literature, have their differences. Yet we must read them together to know God’s teaching about wisdom.

Proverbs—“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” with fear meaning to acknowledge God in all of his greatness and majesty. Our very “existence depends on him” (12). This fear does not make us run, but “makes us pay attention and listen” (13) and it leads to obedience. Wisdom is both ethical and theological. Because of who God is, we stand and listen and obey. Woman Wisdom represents God, and Woman Folly represents the false gods (for the gods live on the highest hills, cf. Prov 9.3, 14). So, in the second part of Proverbs (10-31), even when God is not mentioned the proverbs remain theological. For example, to be wise is to obey and honor one’s parents (10.1) for it means you are properly worshiping and honoring God (Exod 20.12).

There are two speakers (and two messages) in Ecclesiastes. The first is Qohelet (taken to be “a literary construct… to get the reader to think about the meaning of life”), the second is a father speaking to his son, with his perspective being the correct one (36). For Qohelet, God has set eternity in our hearts, yet we do not understand “when the right time occurs” (33). We do not know what God is doing from beginning to end. Yet Proverbs teaches that the wise man does know the proper time to apply certain proverbs. Rather, the father (at the end of the book) gives his son an “above the sun” look at life. Human wisdom comes up empty in the end, but fearing God leads to life.

Job—most of this chapter is a summary of key points throughout Job. Job’s three friends repeat a retributive theological argument ad nauseum. The argument never changes nor develops, the volume just gets turned up. Longman says that Job is not about theodicy, or how to persevere through suffering, it is a debate over wisdom, “and Job’s suffering is the occasion for the debate” (47). In fact, Job agrees to the friends’ retribution theology. Job’s take: he is blameless, but since he is suffering, God must be unjust. He admits that wisdom is hidden from all, even the sea and death don’t know where it is. Wisdom is found in God alone (28.28), and after Job meets God, the reader sees that submission is one’s proper response to God within a relationship with him.

Part two looks at wisdom sayings (ch 4) in Deuteronomy, the Psalms, Song of Songs, in the prophetic literature. Deuteronomy and the Psalms bring together (God’s) law and (God’s) wisdom, and the prophets show that having the law doesn’t equal having wisdom. Rather, fearing and knowing God and following his law bring wisdom. The Song of Songs, though not “wisdom” literature per se, connects with Proverbs in an ethical and practical way—love and be faithful to your own spouse.

Longman tries to cover a lot of ground in thirteen pages in chapter four, which, while leaving me wanting more, it also left me feeling quite empty. When talking about the prophets he spends a lot of time quoting examples but only gives brief statements about true wisdom and how they emphasized knowing God rightly. Those brief statements were often swallowed up by the many biblical quotations; it seemed to be a rehearsal of much of the text (though not completely).

In chapter six Longman views both Joseph’s wise actions in light of PEJ and Daniel’s wisdom in light of Proverbs. They were figures of wisdom. Part two ends with chapter 7, a look at Adam and Solomon who both had wisdom but who instead both chose folly. The king of Tyre in Ezekiel 28 thought himself to be wise but was compared to prideful Adam. For both Adam and the king of Tyre, submission to God in all matters is wisdom lived out.

Part three observes the source of wisdom (ch 7). Is it revelation? Ultimately, wisdom comes from God. Proverbs testifies to the ten commandments, and even though Proverbs utilizes some Egyptian proverbs, ultimately the Egyptians were fools because they did not fear Yahweh. “All truth is God’s truth,” and to follow God and his instructions is wise.

In chapter eight, God in his wisdom created an ordered cosmos, and the more we discover the more wisdom we gain in living this life as his dependent creatures. Yet this ordered world is also a fallen one, and even the wisest of persons can, and might end up, in desperation due to the pervasiveness of evil. “The world is warped; we are warped,” and the ordered world, and especially its disordered citizens, does not always follow its order like we expect it to (142). Yet there is hope amid the frustration. Jesus, who experienced the world’s frustration, has brought redemption through his death and resurrection, and a new creation is coming our way where all vanity/frustration will be cleared away.

The rest of part three sets wisdom literature within its cultural ANE context (ch 9), and examines the relationship between wisdom, law, and covenant (ch 10). God’s law expresses how his covenant people should live.

In part four, Longman mines Proverbs for a retributive theology (ch 11). Job clearly teaches against it, but so many verses in Proverbs state that if one does/not do x, he will/not gain y (185). Doesn’t this sound like prosperity teaching? Yet Job was blameless but received suffering, and Qohelet sees injustice in the midst of righteousness. Proverbs are not promises, and Job and Ecclesiastes are “offering a corrective to a misreading of Proverbs” (186).

In chapter twelve, Longman then searches to see if there was a group/class of sages or a school of wisdom in Israel, and asks how a woman is to read the book of Proverbs which seems directed mostly to males (ch 13, see my post).

Part five looks at wisdom in the apocryphal books and Dead Sea Scrolls (ch 14) and in the NT writings (ch 15). Jesus is compared to Woman Wisdom, specifically that found in Proverbs 8. In Proverbs 8 (and all of 1–9 where she is mentioned) Woman Wisdom is a poetic personification, but one that is not a prophecy to be fulfilled (by Jesus or anyone else). Jesus embodies God’s wisdom, but he does not fulfill all of the details of Proverbs 8.

The book ends with two appendices—(A1) wisdom in the twenty-first century; (A2) is wisdom literature a genre? Appendix 1 brings some good application and perspective to living in today’s world. Longman believes that the Christian counselor is the best example of an OT sage. He or she must know Scripture well and be able to apply it, must have a good relationship with God, and ought to be able to, with practice, insightfully figure people out as they counsel them and then apply God’s real-world wisdom to their lives—practical, ethical, and theological wisdom.

Recommended?

As he notes in his book, the idea of wisdom has been given short shrift for a long time. It’s something that been likened to something stodgy old people have who have learned from their mistakes but they don’t want to admit they had fun doing it. Or some see it as having mass quantities of knowledge, like living in the ivory tower and waxing eloquently with every word. Instead, as Longman believes, it is EQ: emotional (and social) intelligence. It is knowing how to live in this world among its people, knowing how to serve them well, and how to survive this life without being ruined (at least by our own foolishness). Pastors, teachers, and students would be well served by Longman’s treatments.

Lagniappe

Buy it 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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Book Review: The Divine Christ (David Capes)

How did a Jewish, middle class, Israelite man who was beaten, flogged, stripped, and nailed to a cross become to be believed and associated with the almighty God of Israel? In his book The Divine Christ, David Capes (associate dean of biblical and theological studies and professor of New Testament at Wheaton College) examines Paul’s texts and argues both historically and theologically that Jesus was believed to be divine early on in the history of Christianity.

In the first chapter Capes surveys the Hebrew and Greek words our English Bibles translate as “lord,” “Lord,” and “LORD.” In the Septuagint, kyrios, the Greek word for “lord,” is used as a title for certain humans who held authority, the Lord Jesus Christ, and for God. Capes briefly examines how the divine name is used in the biblical texts and in the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS).

In the second chapter observes the work of Wilhelm Bousset who sought to understand Christianity as a historical phenomenon without analyzing their truth claims. He and his colleagues purely observed the historical outworkings of Christianity through situating the NT documents in their contexts with our Christian documents. Bousset wanted to explain how religion devotion to Jesus arose with a Greco-Roman environment. The DSS had not yet been discovered, so he was unable to place the NT within the Second Temple period. He believed that the first people to call Jesus “Lord” were Greek-speaking Gentiles in Hellenistic churches in pluralistic Syria. 

While these first two chapters weren’t too exciting for myself, regardless they are important. They situate Paul in a proper cultural context, and Capes shows that it would have been monotheistic, Aramaic-speaking Jews who first called Jesus “Lord” (see 1 Cor 16:22, maranatha, meaning “our Lord, come”) and not Gentiles in a pluralistic who called every god “Lord.”

With the discovery of the DSS, scholars are able to better understand how Greek-speaking Jews understood kyrios in all of its contextual forms. In chapter three, Capes examines Paul’s writings where he refers to Jesus as kyrios. He uses it in four ways: for those who hold authority over others, for other gods and deities, and for the one God of Israel. The fourth way, the majority of Paul uses, refer to Jesus Christ. At the resurrection, Jesus was given the name above all names: Lord. Jesus is not just any “lord;” he receives God’s unique covenant name (YHWH). Jesus holds dominion over the living and the dead. 

Generally, Paul uses certain titles for Christ in specific ways. “Christ” = Jesus’ sacrificial death, the cross/crucifixion (1 Cor 2.2). “Lord” = ethical statements with an emphasis on Jesus’ authority (Phil 4.1), eschatology (“the day of the Lord,” Amos 5:20; 1 Thess 5.2; 1 Cor 1.8), instructions on church life and worship (1 Cor 11.20). Just as YHWH (kyrios in the LXX) gave Israel ethical commands, so the Lord Jesus does too. Jesus, Paul’s contemporary who died a gruesome and shameful death on a cross, does now and will do in the future actions that were reserved for Yahweh alone. For example, “calling up on the name of the Lord” in Joel 2.32 [3.5 LXX] is applied to the Lord Jesus Christ in Romans 10.9–13 (cf. 1 Cor 12.3). The Son and the Father are regarded as one, although they are still distinct. Jesus is both associated with the Father and is subordinate to him. The chapter ends with an excursus on the use of “Kyrios as Counterimperial Propaganda.”

In chapters four and five, Capes notes that Paul unambiguously quotes thirteen OT texts which use the divine name Yahweh. About half of Paul’s uses refer to the Father, with the others referring to Christ. Even his allusions to Yahweh texts refer to Christ. In chapter four, after briefly explaining the difference between a quote, an allusion, and an echo, Capes examines the OT texts which Paul quotes in reference to the Father (Rom 4.7–8; 9.27–29; 11.34; 15.9–11; 1 Cor 3.20; 2 Cor 6.17–18). Paul knew the divine name referred to the God of Israel and at times refers to him when he quotes OT “Yahweh” texts. Capes brings up three texts where Paul inserts the word kyrios to speak of God (Rom 11.3; 12.19; 1 Cor 14.21) providing more evidence that the use of kyrios for God was in Paul’s vocabulary.

My only (minor) critique of this chapter was that Capes believes 2 Corinthians 6:14–7.1 to be a self-contained unit of Scripture and so blows off the surrounding context. There are a few commentaries and writings which argue against 6.14–7.1 being a self-contained argument (Seifrid, Hafeman, Beale, etc.), and to treat it as such deflates the impact of Paul’s argument. However, Capes’ discussion was still good, and I gleaned much from it.

In chapter five Capes looks at those OT Yahweh texts in which Paul refers to Jesus and explains the surrounding context of each text (Rom 10.13; 1 Cor 1.31; 2.16; 10.26; 2 Cor 10.17). He also gives tie to explain a few allusions (1 Cor 10.21, 22; 1 Thess 3.13; 4.3; 2 Cor 3.16; Phil 2.6–11). Capes helps the reader delineate between texts which refer to God or Christ—Yahweh texts are reserved for God “primarily in theocentric passages such as Rom. 9–11” (149). When Paul wants the reader to understand that the Father is in view, he clearly states it in the context or in an introductory formula. If a title such as “Lord of hosts”/“Lord almighty” is added, then it refers to God. Paul uses kyrios to refer to Jesus in a pretty straightforward way, possibly because references to Jesus as kyrios make up most of Paul’s uses.

Capes examines the implications of Paul closely associating Jesus with the God of Israel in chapter six. He notes a few allusions in the DSS and other Jewish writings of figures who are closely associated with the God of Israel, but says that there is still a difference between those texts and what Paul is doing. Paul has a pattern of associated Jesus with God, Jesus is the only one associated with God, he has received the divine name from God, Paul quotes and alludes to OT Yahweh texts and uses some of them to refer to Jesus, and Jesus was a real, historical figure who was a contemporary to Paul. He was not a legendary person of old (like Melchizedek). And so, a high Christology can be traced back to the beginning of the Christian movement. On the Damascus road Paul saw the glory of the Lord; it transformed him and compelled him to be a light to the Gentiles. The disciples who lived with Jesus for three years saw his miracles and heard the way he used Scripture to present his authority before all. They saw the coming of God into the world, at through his death, resurrection, and ascension he received the divine name—that above all names.

Recommended?

Capes offers a good synopsis of Paul’s use of the Yahweh texts. He gives enough information for some to be satisfied and to pique the interest of others to go searching for more. The divinity of Christ will be debated with each new generation, and Capes provides a way for us to understand the apostles’ thinking, particularly Paul’s. Some will be disinterested in the first two chapters, but they lay an important historical foundation for the need for this study. Capes’ book could be read in tandem with Gordon Fee’s Pauline Christology (see his more accessible work, Jesus the Lord according to Paul the Apostle), and anything by Larry Hurtado, especially his upcoming Honoring the Son.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology
  • Author: David B. Capes
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (March 20, 2018)
  • David blogs at https://davidbcapes.com/

Buy it on 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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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.

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).

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Review: Saved by Allegiance Alone

Matthew Bates, Associate Professor of Theology at Quincy University in Quincy, Illinois, is the author of The Birth of the Trinity (which I will be reading soon). Seeking to serve both the church and academy, he co-hosts OnScript, a podcast dedicated to interviewing scholars over their books to pique the interest of many.

What is “faith”? More so, what does it take to be saved? Acknowledging that although you are a sinner, God sent his one and only Son to die on a cross for your sins? Then, after his resurrection, he ascended to the Father and will return to gather up his people one day? Is it only belief in those core facts that makes someone a new creation? The biblical authors (see James 2.14–18) would disagree. 

Throughout his book, Bates puts forth that pistis (“faith”) is better understood within the umbrella-term of “allegiance” instead of “faith,” “belief,” and “trust.” Now, nowhere does he says that pistis should always be translated as “allegiance” (78), but it is more than mere mental assent. We don’t need to stop using “faith, and “belief,” but allegiance is “the best macro-term available to us that can describe what God requires from us for eternal salvation” (5).

Faith is not opposed to evidence. We need not make leaps of faith to believe God nor should we fear intellectual study. Faith does not oppose works of all kinds (cf. Eph 2.10; 2 Tim 2.21; 3.17), nor believing all will just happen to go well. We believe and thus preach the “good news about the enthronement of Jesus the atoning king” (30). We live under that eternally reigning King, and we will be judged for how we live (2 Cor 5.10).

Preaching allegiance to the eternal reigning King is not legalistic, for the Apostle Paul preached the very same thing.

Rom 1.5, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.

Rom 16.26, but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith

Acts 26.20, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.

Bates is not the only scholar to emphasize loyalty. In Supernatural, Michael Heiser says, “Salvation is about believing loyalty—trusting what Jesus did to defeat Satan’s claim and turning from all other gods and the belief systems of which they are a part” (125). In his commentary on Deuteronomy, Dan Block says,

Answering to the Supreme Command, by uttering the Shema the Israelites were declaring their complete, undivided, and unqualified devotion to Yahweh. This is not strictly a monotheistic confession (cf. 4:35, 39) but a cry of allegiance, an affirmation of covenant commitment that defines the boundaries of the covenant community. It consists of those who claim this utterance as a verbal badge of identity and who demonstrate this identity with uncompromising covenant commitment… (182).

So, is allegiance a better way to understand pistis than the long-held “faith”/“belief”?

The Spoiled Milk

First, I don’t think all of the verses Bates uses as support are so helpful. Consider his translation of Romans 5.1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by allegiance, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Were we justified when we believed/trusted Christ as King or when we trusted and then acted upon it? Wouldn’t trust imply that we will act upon our beliefs? Bates says that the “metaphors [of ‘belief’ and ‘trust’] are best adjusted and subsumed within the richer category of allegiance. Consistent trust in situations of duress over a lengthy period of time is allegiance” (90).

Maybe it is my own myopia, but I fail to see how mental assent comes under the doing of allegiance. One must believe before he can do. One must mentally “assent” to Christ as King before he can follow in his steps.

Ephesians 2.8, “For by grace you have been saved through allegiance. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” However, if we have been saved by allegiance, this surely sounds like our own doing. Although Bates admits that “even the ability to render allegiance to Jesus as king is a gift” (172), this seems to confuse more than clarify.

Hebrews 11.1, 3 say, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God….” As the author continues, the remaining 22 uses of faith seem to focus on “belief”/mental assent rather than allegiance (though without excluding obedience/allegiance).

In 11.4, both Cain and Abel offered sacrifices, but it was by Abel’s trust/faith in God that he offered a better sacrifice. Noah, warned of impending doom, trusted God (and obeyed, Gen 6.22). Joseph (Heb 11.22), at the end of his life, trusted God’s promises of land and genealogy made mention of Israel’s future exodus. In 11.28, Moses trusted Yahweh’s promise that obeying the Passover instructions would protect them from the Destroyer’s touch (a trust which included obedience).

As a reminder, Bates doesn’t say allegiance is always the best way to translate pistis, but throughout Hebrews 11 it seems that the main focus is on heroes who trusted God and thus acted upon that trust.

Recommended?

There’s not much new here, though his book is a helpful emphasis on loyalty to our King. Bates rightly makes the case that faith should not be left in the ether; it is expressly shown in our daily actions as we serve our righteous King. However, these actions, while expressing allegiance to our King, are subsumed under the overarching idea of our mental assent and understanding of what God has down for us in Christ. The teachings in this book would be helpful when correcting a brother or sister who creates a habit in saying, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” and for encouraging those who might have forgotten (or just not realized) the importance of loyalty. While allegiance is an important facet of our loyalty to our King, I still believe that sola fide, “faith alone,” is a better way to understand our salvation.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Matthew W. Bates
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (March 14, 2017)
  • Podcast: OnScript 

Buy from Baker Academic or Amazon

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic through the Baker Academic Bloggers program. 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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Review: Grammatical Concepts 101 for Biblical Hebrew

long

For many of us (Americans) grammar is not our strong suit. I certainly speak for myself. Besides adverbs, I did well in high school. But high school was ten years ago, I’m learning Hebrew now, and I am becoming very much aware that ten years is a long time. Gary Long knows the struggle, and has written this book to teach underlings like me how to work with both English and Hebrew grammar.

Summary

Long’s book is divided into three parts:

Part I: Foundations explains the basis of language. He covers linguistic hierarchies, from phone(me) -> morph(eme) -> lex(eme) -> word -> phrase – clause. Sound production comes next, which is surprisingly helpful in remembering why Hebrew vowels change from one vowel to another. Next comes the syllable (a requirement to understand Hebrew), and translational values.

Part II: Building Blocks expands upon the grammar concepts one would find in a grammar book: gender, number, article, conjunctions, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, infinitives, gerunds, participles, verbs, tense and aspect, mood, the imperative, the jussive, and voice.

Part III: The Clause and Beyond. Doing just as he says, Long moves from words to clauses, semantics, and discourse analysis (a relatively new field). This will not be for beginners, but it will be understandable for those who are working through this in class now or who have worked through this already. Long is able to spend 52 pages on these topics, and that’s plenty more you’d get from most (or any) grammar book.

Long beings by showing how a topic (adverbs) work in English before he teaches the reader how it works in Hebrew. While one could resort to Google to understand the definition of an adverb, Long provides phrases and sentences in Hebrew for the reader to see how the grammar functions. The Hebrew is provided, the interlinear is given underneath each word, and parsing is given for the particular grammatical word in view.

hb

Long strives for simplicity whenever possible, and warns the reader that, at times, they may find the language overly simplistic. This depends on the individual. In some cases everything made good sense, but in other places I didn’t know what I was reading and thought, “There must be an easier way to say this.“ Though, those thoughts only occurred in section 3, a section I haven’t yet been taught in class. But again, this book isn’t to be read on its own.

Throughout Long’s book, he gives you many cross references to other grammatical concepts. So in the section on demonstrative adjectives, there’s a clear distinction from demonstrative pronouns (which you can find on p. 51). This is helpful because there many concepts to grasp, and a quick guide to the exact page saves time instead of scanning through each page of the chapter on pronouns. Yet the system is a tad cumbersome. Perhaps in the next edition the cross references could be put in the margins or turned into footnotes. That would leave the main text free while keeping the pointers on the page.

Recommended?

What must be said about this book is that it is “designed to complement standard teaching grammars” (xvii). A grammar is best not read alone (it’s best to have a teacher), and this book should not be read alone. This is not meant to be read cover to cover, but a slice at a time when one comes across a difficult concept. It is a reference work. You will have trouble understanding Hebrew grammar if you try reading this book on its own. Teachers would do well to use this to make explaining grammar easier. Grammar books just can’t use as much space as Long does. That’s a huge benefit with Long’s volume. He can use more space to explain concepts from the ground up. Beginning Hebraist will derive a good bit of help from this book, primarily Parts 1 and 2. Part 3 will likely be over their heads as that section moves from basic grammatical functions to the clause, syntax, and discourse grammar.

These are not topics Elementary Hebrew students pick up. But that does mean this book will grow in its usefulness to the student when he or she has walked through the door and made themselves at home with syntax and exegesis. Really, predication and semantics won’t make sense to the beginner if they only read this book. Even some topics in Part 2 won’t make sense because the beginner hasn’t been taught this yet. I found his chapters on tense and aspect, mood, and voice to be understandable, but a book can only do so much. If you’re a teacher, this book will come in handy as a supplement to the student. If you’re a student, you need all the help you can get to understand grammar (at least, if you plan to take some exegesis classes). It’s vital to understand the grammar of any language your learning. How much more should we use the resources at hand to know the words of the One who redeems us from death?

Lagniappe

  • Author: Gary Long
  • Paperback: 234 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic; 2 edition (April 15, 2013)

Buy it on Baker Academic or on Amazon!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic through the Baker Academic Bloggers program. 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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Review: Ephesians (BECNT)

Ephesians BECNT

Frank Thielman is the Presbyterian Professor of Divinity of the New Testament at Beeson Divinity. He is well known for his work on the Law and it’s relation to the Christian believer, along with his Theology of the NT, commentary of Philippians, and his contribution to the Commentary of the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament on Ephesians.

Each section in this volume (and all BECNT volumes) can be divided up into four ways:

  1. An short summary introduction, presented in a gray-shaded box (making it easy to recognize).
  2. Exegesis and Exposition, where a translation of the text is given along with its meaning.
  3. A concluding summary, also in a gray-shaded box for easy recognition.
  4. Additional Notes, not given in every section, but usually deals with textual criticism and linguistics.
    1. I usually never read these sections since I’m neither a textual critic not a Greek reader, but I was surprised at how interesting some of the notes were in Thielman’s volume.  In many cases they’re more like extended footnotes dealing with theological matters in the text, rather than which manuscript is more original (important in it’s own right)

Thielman is careful in his exegesis, looking beyond the most recent of commentators to those of the nineteeneth and twentieth centuries, even down to the early church. Besides having taught the Greek text of Ephesians at BDS and being committed to his own studies, Thielman remains up-to-date on ancient primary sources and secondary literature from Greco-Roman history on culture, and he consistently looks back to find the meaning of particularly difficult words. Yet in all of this, he doesn’t rely so heavily on them that he misses the influence of the OT (and the works of Second Temple Period Judaism).

The Chocolate Milk

While I own only the volumes on Mark, Luke, John, and this one, I was surprised at how easy this volume was to read. The BECNT series is academic. I like that and I expect them to be so. Academic means good information, but not always easy on the eyes. But for the pastor, the student, or the layman (however you define that term), there is plenty of depth here to be explored. In-text citations are much fewer in number (especially when compared to the John volume). Really, the majority of in-text references are Scriptural! This volume is quite easy to read, especially since the author is not focusing on redactional criticism, or the thoughts of all of commentators (neither of which are bad, but footnotes are a godsend). That aside, this is still an exegetical (read: dense) commentary, so the term “easy” is relative. But it is “easier” than other commentaries I’ve come across.

Thielman’s Views

1.1; Ephesians is not pseudonymous as many say. Paul is the author (my post here).

1.7; Acknowledging the intense debate, Thielman takes the phrase “redemption through his blood” to mean that “in the death of Christ, God came powerfully to the rescue of his people just as he had done in former times when he rescued them from the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and other nations” (60), while also giving credence to the meaning that redeeming one from slavery was done at a high price.

2.14-18; Thielman doesn’t believe that the “dividing wall” that was “broken down” should be linked with the Temple wall that separated the Court of the Gentiles. Rather, Paul is speaking about Christ breaking down the Torah Law. This isn’t to mean it has no relevance for believers, as it glorifies God and shows his good character. But we are not bound to following it to the minutia. Christ has fulfilled the Law. When Christ died on the cross, he set the Law aside and “created a new people unified across ethnic barriers” (173). He reconciled to God all those who believe in he gospel (being Jew and Gentile).

3.6; Jews and Gentiles who believe in Christ are made one people. They both share in the promise given to Abraham, and share equal status before God.

4.11-12; Some of the gifts Christ gave to the church were the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors (shepherds), and teachers. Pastors and teachers are different offices (though both gifts can be held by one person). Not every teacher is a pastor/shepherd. They were given to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. It is not the five aforementioned offices who do all of the work. Those who are gifted work together with “those whom they equip… to build up the body of Christ” (280).

5.5-7; Paul is talking about the present inheritance of the kingdom of God (though not excluding the future inheritance). The Messiah is presently reigning with God, and his enemies are beneath his feet. We are to now be imitators of God, not partakers with the world, those still walking according to the course of this world.

6.5-9; Paul is not neutral toward slavery. In fact, believing masters should follow after Jesus’ words that he who is greatest must be servant of all (my post here).

The Spoiled Milk

While there is an important OT focus in this commentary, sometimes Thielman doesn’t make all of the connections. In wanting to write a post about the connections between Isaiah 59.16-21 and Ephesians 6.1-20 (we put on the armour of God), I looked up what Thielman had to say. Yet, while in Isa. 59 the armour of God is worn by YHWH and it aids in an offensive attack, here in Eph. 6 it is “used to defend a position” and is worn by believers (425). Thielman says, “The differences between the imagery in Isaiah and Paul’s use of it here probably mean that he is not providing a commentary in Isa. 11:5 and 59:17 but developing the imagery in his own way” (425). Is this the case? I am no scholar, but couldn’t it be that God is now doing battle through his church? In Isaiah 59 God sees that there is no justice and puts on his armour to fight. Now, the Ephesian believers have put on Christ, the new man, and they are to expose the works of darkness (5.11) that the unbeliever may be saved.

There are a few other examples like this. Regardless, these examples are minor. They are not a significant hindrance to this volume.

Recommended?

Yes. Thielman is careful in his exegesis and gives a solid, evangelical commentary which is important for such a difficult and grammatically-ambiguous book as Ephesians. Thielman keeps his eyes on the rest of the text being faithful to remind us of what has come before and what will come after. As with the BECNT volumes, Knowledge of the Greek language gives you an upper hand in using this volume to its fullest, but it is not necessary. Being slightly longer than O’Brien’s volume [PNTC] and half as long as Hoehner, Thielman would be in good company with both. While not as applicable as O’Brien, Hoehner, or Arnold, a student of Ephesians would benefit from having Thielman on his bookshelf. We need more solid, evangelical commentaries on Ephesians, and Thielman does an excellent job of filling up what is lacking.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (November 1, 2010)
  • Amazon: US // UK
  • PDF excerpt found here

[Special thanks to Mark at SPCK and Trinity at Baker Academic  for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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