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Book Review: Honoring the Son (Snapshots), Larry Hurtado

In Lexham Press’s Snapshots series, one that contains short books on various topics such as the atonement, transformation as the heart of Paul’s gospel, and the church and Israel. Now Lexham has added another volume by the eminent NT scholar Larry Hurtado, emeritus professor of New Testament language, literature, and theology at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He has written numerous books on the early church’s devotion to Jesus, such as Why on Earth did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries?, Destroyer of the gods, One God, One Lord, and How on Earth did Jesus Become a God? In Honoring the Son, Hurtado distills the last 30 years of research into one small book (82 pages).

After a Foreword by David Capes, Hurtado’s Introduction previews the plan of his book and then briefly reviews 20th century scholarship on how Jesus received cultic (“religious”) devotion. A certain Wilhelm Bousset wrote a book asking whether worship of Jesus originated with Jewish Christians, or, as Bousset argued, “in diaspora settings such as Antioch and Damascus, where he posited believers were more subject to pagan influences in which divinized heroes and multiple deities were more acceptable than in Roman Judea” (6). Basically, Bousset argues that Jews didn’t worship other gods; they worshiped Yahweh alone. So it must be that some Jews further out in Antioch (modern-day Turkey, quite a ways from Rome) were influenced by other pagans to add “divinized heroes” on to their toolbelt of deities to whom to pray. Thus, being influenced by their culture, they ‘divinized’ Jesus and began to worship him. There is more to the history of research, but I’ll let you read the rest of that.

In brief, chapter 2 covers worship in the ancient world. Worship was “the heart of Roman-era religion” (21). They viewed gods as the guardians of homes, towns, nations, and the Roman Empire. While you would have your own god(s), when you went to other towns you would worship and ‘honor’ other gods. To refuse to honor gods “might provoke them to retaliate, or at least to take offense” (22). It was irresponsible (and antisocial) to refuse to worship other gods. Chapter 3 looks at ancient Jewish monotheism, where all people honored each others gods, well, except for the Jews. It’s not that they didn’t think there weren’t other gods or spiritual beings (see Deut 32.8-9, 17; Ps 82; 1 Cor 10.19-21), but they didn’t worship them. They worship only one God, Yahweh. Chapter 4 brings us to the early Christian “mutation.” Jews died for their belief that they worshiped one God alone. How did Jewish Christians come to incorporate Jesus into their devotional practices? Paul regularly refers to Jesus as “Lord” (Rom 10.9-13 // Joel 2.32; Phil 2.9-11 // Isa 45.23; 1 Cor 8.4-6). Chapter 5: Jesus in Earliest Christian Devotional Practice presents the different ways in which Jesus was worshiped, honored, and revered not as a second god, nor at God’s expense, but with God as a recipient. Prayers, calling on Jesus’ name, the place of Jesus in baptism and the Lord’s supper, prophecy, and hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs all feature the uniqueness of Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, in the New Testament time. Honoring the Son ends with a Conclusion and an Appendix against Bart Ehrman’s ideas in his How Jesus Became God.

Thoughts

This is a great resource and an excellent distillation of Hurtado’s previous books. I’ve only read one of Hurtado’s books, but I’ve heard a good bit about his thoughts, so it was very helpful to read this thoughtful compression of thoughts. Every chapter was good, and it was especially helpful to have the brief overview of Greco-Roman thought when it came to religious worship. The Jews stood in stark contrast to them, with many being mocked and martyred for their beliefs. For Paul, the other NT authors, and the early churches to view Jesus so highly would be in stark contrast to the Jewish way of life, while still fitting with the Old Testament! The historical context Hurtado presents gives even greater meaning to those of us Christians today who just assume that it was obvious Jesus was divine so there shouldn’t have been a problem worshiping him. As Paul hows from the OT Scriptures, Jesus was closely associated with Yahweh, having received the “name above all names” (see the above references).

It should be said that the writing here is still very academic. It means Hurtado can be as precise as he needs to be to get his point across, but it will be made to less people. One example of the book’s academic nature can be seen in a certain change of terms. Hurtado once described this new devotional pattern (worshiping God the Father and the Son) as “binitarian.” He now describes this Christian development as “dyadic,” but he doesn’t explain what a dyad is. According to Wikipedia, “In sociology, a dyad is a group of two people, the smallest possible social group. As an adjective, ‘dyadic’ describes their interaction.”

Now granted, I could have looked up that word immediately upon seeing it for the first time, and I should neither expect books to explain all complicated words to me (dictionaries are still around for a reason). Nowhere in the book does Hurtado express that this is meant for the person in the pew. I do hope many pastors and teachers will pick this up to show the historical significance of Jewish Christians worshiping Jesus and calling on his name to be saved.

Hurtado’s book helps to affirm the divine position of the Son of God. I hope this book will be read widely.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Snapshots
  • Author: Larry W. Hurtado
  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (June 27, 2018)

Buy it from Amazon, Adlibris, or Lexham Press

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham 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: John (Verse by Verse), Grant Osborne

Commentaries don’t need to be so difficult. Some of them are meant to bring the reader into the world of Greek or Hebrew grammar to understand the nuances of the author’s language. Others bring out cultural details and ancient literary sources to compare and contrast the thoughts of the biblical author to his culture. Others are just easy to read. They let you sit down with your Bible to read without flooding your with extraneous details. Although those other commentaries are important (and I enjoy them), Grant Osborne has decided that at the end of his academic career he would write a commentary on every book of the NT specifically for the layperson. His three main intended uses are for devotional aids, for use in Bible study groups, and as sermon helps. The church needs teachers so that they don’t commit heresy, but studying the Bible doesn’t need to be a”a tedious duty we have to perform” (xi). Osborne wants studying the Bible to be a joy, not a burden.

While Osborne has written a hefty commentary on John (finishing at just under 500 pages), it is still light reading. He doesn’t spend much time looking at differing perspectives; instead he focuses on what he believes the text says. When he does present other views, he represents them with care and grace. Osborne understands the apostle John to be the author of the Gospel, which could have been written in the early 80s AD during John’s ministry in Ephesus. John sets his Gospel around three Passovers, is the most chronological of all the Gospels, and places the “most emphasis on the historical reliability of his material” then the Synoptics (10).

1.1: John’s reference to Jesus as the logos is closer to the Jewish conception of the word as God’s divine creative wisdom (Prov 8:30-31). Jesus is the “Living Revealer” of God, his very voice (24).

2.13-22: Osborne sees no problem with there being two temple cleansings, one at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and one at the end (66).

3.5: Being born “of water and Spirit” refer to the new birth brought by the Spirit. “Water,” here, refers to the Spirit, as it does in John 7.38-39, and it looks back at Ezekiel 36.25-28, which uses water as a metaphor for the spiritually cleansing work of the Holy Spirit.

4.23-24: True worship is that which is given to God through Christ in the Spirit.

5.24-25: There is a now/not yet function to our salvation. Christians are both saved and raised to new life now, but we will also be saved at the coming of Christ and physically raised to new life then.

7.53-8.11: The story of the woman caught in adultery “was undoubtedly not a part of John’s Gospel and was likely added by Christian scribes early in the second century,” it is “missing from nearly all the early manuscripts,” and “no Greek church father commented on this story before the twelfth century, and it is not found in older translations of the New Testament” (204). After a quick discussion of the facts, Osborne says that most believe it was a true story that actually happened. While he doesn’t believe the story is canonical, he agrees that it is likely a true part of Jesus’ ministry. While he wouldn’t make a Bible study out of it, Osborne does think it makes for a good sermon illustration about forgiveness.

10.34-36: Those who are called “gods” were not Israel’s judges but all of Israel. They were considered to be “gods” because they were God’s “firstborn son” (Exod 4:22). 

14.12: The “greater works” are not only miracles but include imitating Jesus in his prayer life, acts of service in love, and his proclamation of divine truth (339). What can be greater than raising the dead? Bringing new life to a dead spirit. We bring the gospel so that God cane make people alive.

19.34: The blood and water which pour out from Jesus’ side represent his sacrificial death and the cleansing work of the Spirit, themes which fits John’s Gospel (446). John could also be battling a docetic heresy which disregarded Jesus as appearing in a physical body.

20.22: The reception of the Spirit here was a “private infilling of the disciples” after Jesus’ resurrection, whereas Pentecost in Acts 2 was the public reception and empowerment of the Holy Spirit who would send out the church to preach the good news.

John 21: This chapter is a fitting epilogue written by John as the ending of his Gospel. It concludes the interaction between Peter and the Beloved disciple and Jesus. All manuscripts of John’s Gospel have this chapter.

Recommended?

I found Osborne’s John commentary to be very refreshing. He fills his commentary with references back and forth to other passages in John, showing how John’s themes recur throughout his Gospel. Osborne is sensitive to building up the faith of the reader through a knowledge and understanding of John’s Gospel. I’ve not read most of the commentaries in this series, but given the Osborne’s faithfulness to Scripture in his more academic works and the readability of this volume, I would highly recommend anyone who wants to study the Bible to pick up any of Osborne’s commentaries: laypersons, pastors, and teachers. Unless you’ve already studied every NT book for years, Osborne will be a great conversation partner for most who want to study the letters of the NT.

Lagniappe

▪ Series: Osborne New Testament Commentaries
▪ Author: Grant Osborne
▪ Paperback: 432 pages
▪ Publisher: Lexham Press (May 2, 2018)

Buy it from Amazon, Adlibris, or Lexham Press

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham 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 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: Echoes of Exodus (Bryan Estelle)

Why does Luke 9:31 describe Jesus’ crucifixion as his ἔξοδον (“exodov”)? Why does Peter describe Christians as a “holy” and “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2.5, 9), redeemed by the blood of Christ the lamb (1.19)? What is the “new song” sung in Revelation 5:9 and 14:3? What is the old song? How does the idea of the exodus stretch from the book of Exodus to Luke? 1 Peter? Revelation? How is it carried along in the Old Testament?

Bryan Estelle, professor of Old Testament at Westminster Seminary California, provides a book on intertextuality on how the whole Bible develops a major theme: the exodus. Estelle traces this biblical motif throughout the Bible. Remember that when you read this. He doesn’t spend much time exegeting passages or drawing out how each line looks back on an exodus event. Rather, he looks at a passage and states how it broadly uses or reinterprets an idea from the exodus.

After a technical (but important) chapter on intertextuality, allusions, and echoes (see also the book’s appendix), Estelle moves on to the exodus motif. The exodus was when Yahweh delivered his people from the grip of Egypt. He brings his people to the cosmic mountain, the mountain of his presence, Mt. Sinai, gives Israel his instructions and has them build a tabernacle where he will dwell among them- just as he dwelt among Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Estelle defines the exodus motif in this way: “both the deliverance from the enemies of Israel in Egypt and the wilderness wanderings as described in the Sinai pilgrimage, which culminate in the arrival at the foot of the mountain of God” (102).

Estelle then takes his readers through the Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Ezra and Nehemiah, Mark and Matthew, Luke and Acts, Paul, 1 Peter, and Revelation. Often throughout the Old Testament texts Estelle includes his own translation, often including Hebrew transliterations of key words that allude to the exodus. Estelle wants his readers to feel confident when they read their Bibles to be able to ‘hear’ the Bible’s own allusions to different events, specifically the exodus, even if they don’t know the biblical languages themselves.

The Spoiled Milk

In chapter two, “The Past is Prologue,” Estelle brings the reader back to creation, the problem of human plight, and how it all relates to the exodus. He discusses the idea of two kingdoms and how God’s “covenantal family” (running through the Adamic line of Seth) “lives in the midst of the common-grace city of man” (76). Surveying Genesis 6-9, with a focus on 8:20-9:17, Estelle examines how the covenant to Noah (6:18) relates to the Noahic covenant. The Abrahamic covenant was redemptive while the Noahic covenant was not. This will run throughout history as God’s people live in the midst of other governments and forms of power. The “kingdom of God and the civil kingdom, will help us understand the exodus motif, guiding our interpretation of the exodus along spiritual lines rather than merely political ones” (90).

Primarily, the discussion of the two kingdoms along with the emphasis on God’s common grace seems to be out of place with the rest of the book. First, much of the discussion had little to do with the exodus until the end of the chapter (see the above quote). This is fine except that these two subjects don’t occur after page 118 (in a 351 page book), which causes me to wonder why they were mentioned in the first place.

Recommended?

One upside to the book is also a downside. Tracing a theme throughout the whole of Scripture means that each section/allusion gets a short shrift. There is not much exegesis, translations of particular sections (e.g., Isaiah 40:1-11) take up a lot of space, and at least one text (Psalm 23) didn’t refer to an exodus text at all. But for those who are new to the Bible’s own intertextuality and the theme of the exodus, this would be a great book to get. To know who to recommend this to is iffy though. If you have Carson and Beale’s Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, if you’ve read Beale’s Revelation commentary, anything by Richard Hays, or Rikk Watts, then some (or all) of this won’t be new. But if you haven’t read some of those guys, or if you’re brand new to this, then pick up this book and see one of the Bible’s greatest themes and how it runs from the beginning of the Bible through our salvation and up to the new creation.

Lagniappe

  • Authors: Bryan D. Estelle
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (January 30, 2018)

Buy it on Amazon or IVP Academic or Adlibris

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: The Lost World of the Flood (Longman and Walton)

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. (Matthew 4.8)

…And distributed among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins to each one. Then all the people departed, each to his house. (2 Sam 6.19)

And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. (Gen 7.19)

Was the Flood a local flood or a global flood? Does the Bible every use hyperbole? If so, can we still consider it inerrant? Does the physical earth show proof of a global flood? If it doesn’t, does the Bible remain trustworthy? Can it be possible that a local flood is hyperbolically represented as covering the whole earth to represent God cleansing the whole earth and starting over? That’s what Tremper Longman and John Walton argue for in The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate.

The authors argue that rather than using Mesopotamian flood sources, the Israelites sat within a “cultural river” of beliefs on the flood. The authors believe a flood really did happen, as can be seen in the writings of many cultures (e.g., the Epic of Gilgamesh). However, they don’t believe in a worldwide flood, and we can’t know which flood lays behind the Noah story.

Yet doesn’t Genesis 7–8 state that the whole world was covered by water (7.21; 8.9). Enter part one (method): “perspectives in interpretation.” The Bible is an “ancient document,” which means very old. This is obvious, but it is easy to forget that people thousands of years ago thought differently than us moderns. When it comes to storytelling and history, since nobody wants to hear every detail, certain aspects must be carried along while others are left behind. Genesis uses rhetorical devices to interpret history for us. God shaped and fashioned an ordered creation; man corrupted it and brought disorder.

But the way this is told is put into a story, one that, according to the authors, uses hyperbole. This will be the most contentious part of this section, since the thought of the Bible using exaggeration seems out of the bounds of a literal interpretation. However, Longman and Walton seek to place the Bible in its historical context, and exaggeration was common among other ancient writings (just as it is today: “But, Mom, everyone is going to the concert. I will be the only one stuck at home all night long!”).

Though which details are actually exaggerated will be debated, exaggeration emphasizes the authors point. The teenager above may have different reasons for wanting to go to the concert (fitting in, having something to talk about at school, favorite band, not wanting to be bored at home while playing cards with Aunt Tina), but Mom knows exaggeration is being used. Readers 1,000 years from now might not know this is exaggeration unless they have read other writings from our time. For the authors, the exaggeration lies primarily in the (over)size of the ark and the extent of the (global) flood. 

In part two (background) the authors looks at the flood stories in other ANE texts to understand the similarities and differences between them and the Genesis text. Part three (text) provides five chapters/propositions on what the flood story (Gen 7-9) and the surrounding texts (6; 10-11) tell us about God and man and that no matter how many times man undermines his ordered presence, God will set his ordered presence among his people (cf. Rev 21-22). Examples are seen through the events of the sons of God intermingling with women, the flood, and the tower of Babel.

Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” represents a real starry night, but it would be madness for us to try to figure out which part of the night sky Van Gogh was looking at for inspiration. In part four (world), the authors write that while the flood story is based on a real event, it was local flood that is not supported by the world’s geology (a chapter written by geologist Stephen Moshier). The fact that there are other flood stories does not prove that there was a worldwide flood, but rather that many lived within the cultural river of knowing there was a great flood. (See Michael Heiser’s post on how to argue biblically for a local flood).

What if there really was only a local flood? The authors argue in the final chapter that science can purify religion and religion can purify science. What they mean is that the Bible was not written to teach us about science but about God and how we can come to know him through Jesus Christ. Galileo taught us that the earth revolves around the sun, and science should not conflict with the Bible. As with Galileo, the authors argue we should go back to the Bible to see if we understood it correctly. On the other side, science is not “the sole arbiter of truth” (175). Not all scientists think it is, but both Dawkins and Hawking spoke incorrectly about religion, embarrassingly so.

I appreciated the authors’ short discussion on the clarity of Scripture. The Bible is clear as to the way of salvation, but that does not mean that all Christian can understand all parts of Scripture just by simply reading the Bible. Even our translations disagree on how to translate certain verses of the Bible. This should not put us into a tizzy. We must mine the Scriptures for wisdom and knowledge to know the God who created and saved us.

The Spoiled Milk

In the preface the authors say that they aren’t trying to offer the “single ‘correct’ interpretation” of the flood. There is much more that could be said than what they say in their book. They aim to relay to the reader what the Bible is speaking. Their goal is not to “convert” nor even to “persuade” their readers to their view. Rather, they want to bring this information to the reader to show them another perspective, or perhaps more information about a perspective they already hold.

However, three times in their book the authors are reveal their hands and play the card of condescension. They say that those who try to rationalize the size of the ark make “rather stretched (to be kind) explanations” and “only the most gullible can possibly believe all of the exceptional conditions that are needed to understand the description of the flood story as anything but hyperbolic” (39, emphasis mine). They later argue “that the New Testament authors (and Jesus himself) were sophisticated enough to understand that [the Genesis story refers to a hyperbolically worldwide flood] (even if some modern readers are not)” (99). If the authors are only presenting their side, then why the dig? (See also page 26 where the authors mention intelligent people who believe in the literal seven days even when there were no celestial bodies, but how they may be “too intelligent (or clever)).”

This does only happen a few times, but the authors may “hope that at least [they] have shown how [their] particular interpretation is the result of faithful interpretation,” those small digs will only serve to distance those “readers who cannot accept our [Longman and Walton’s] findings” (viii).

Recommended?

Is this book dangerous or unorthodox? No. The authors make a good attempt to reconcile the Bible with science, but I don’t think they will convince many unless those readers are already heading in that direction. If this is the first book you read in the “Lost World” series, 180 pages won’t be long enough to convince you of the authors’ view of biblical inspiration and authority. One ought to read Walton’s The Lost World of Scripture for a more complete work. If you’re interested to read a book on the local flood by two well informed scholars, or if you’ve been following the “Lost World” series, then you should start here. If you hold to a global flood and aren’t bothered by a few digs, this book is a good discussion tool and will still help you to see the theological point of the flood and of Genesis 1-11.

Lagniappe

Buy 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 (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)

Buy it on Amazon or Westminster John Knox Press

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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Filed under Jesus and the Gospels, Review