Archive for January, 2008

III. The Role of Acts of the Apostles

January 31, 2008

Now that we know the nature and role of the Gospels, how does Acts of the Apostles fit into the picture of doing NT theology?

Continuing and not contradicting or changing the narrative testimony of the Gospels is Acts of the Apostles. Within this narrative (also penned by the third Gospel writer, Luke), Jesus’ mission carries on. It does so in a manner different from, though doubtlessly expected by the Gospels (See, e.g., Matt 8:11; 28:19-20; Mark 12:9-10; Luke 13:29; 20:16; 24:47-49; John 10:16; 11:52.). This is especially noticable in the apostles’ mission and the fruit of Jesus’ ministry through them, the church. That Luke and Acts were possibly considered one continuing narrative in the early church is also telling of the prevalent continuity they have with the Gospels’ witness (Compare, for instance, Luke 1:1-4 and 24:47-49 with the continuation of his unique message in Acts 1:1-8; or Luke 1:55, 79, 2:32, and 3:6 with the new mission for a regathered ‘Israel’ to be a light to all nations in Acts 1:8, 2:1-39, 11:15-18, and 28:28-31).

If this is the case, with such obvious continuities linking these narratives together, then why the (seemingly) deliberate separation of Luke’s second volume, Acts of the Apostles, from his first, [The Gospel] According to Luke, in the traditional canon? In one sense, this separation is thought to be meaningful. It serves not merely as an introduction to the historical figure of Paul or the post-Easter-empowered disciples, but also as an interpretive bridge between the Gospels and the epistles, especially those included in the Pauline corpus. Acts of the Apostles provides narrative testimony to the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament (e.g. Acts 2:17-18 [Num 11:29; Ezek 36:27; Joel 2:28-32]; Acts 8:14-25 [Ezek 37:15-19]; Acts 13:47 [Isa 42:6; 49:6; cf. Isa 2:2-4=Mic 4:3-4]; Acts 15:13-19 [Amos 9:11-12; cf. Isa 45:21; Jer 12:15-16; Hos 3:5]) and Jesus (e.g. Acts 2:1-36 [Luke 24:47-49]; Acts 10-11 [John 10:16]; Acts 13:46-47 [Luke 13:29]) and sets up an apostolic missionary context in which to read the remainder of the NT (e.g. Paul, Peter, James, or John).

Considering the several centuries that passed before the canon developed its final form, such a reading could arguably be anachronistic; however, for the purpose of NT theology, which seeks to explain the overall unity within the diverse testimonies of the text as we do have it, this observation is astute (cf. Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word, 108-14). That is, since the Gospels are telling one redemptive story, and Acts of the Apostles undeniably continues the events their narratives (esp. Luke’s) expected, and prepares the NT reader for the Pauline corpus, then let us not miss the grandeur of the theological forest for the individual (though necessary) historical trees. Yes, Luke’s two-volume work should be read as a narrative unit, but this does not hinder the overarching theological message uniting the books of the first third of the NT, and anticipating the second third. Acts of the Apostles, therefore, should serve NT theology as bridge from the Evangelists’ Jesus traditions to Paul’s (and the other apostles’) interpretive epistles.

II. The Nature & Role of the Gospels

January 30, 2008

How shall we approach the Gospels?

Addressing the nature of the Gospels has been no light task for Christian scholars considering the post-Enlightenment embrace of the historical-critical method. This affair triggered decades of NT scholarship that presupposed the Gospels portray the historical Jesus inaccurately, since the Jesus of the Christian faith, as represented by the four Gospel traditions, cloaks him in the theological agendas attributed to anonymous communities separated from the eyewitness accounts by an extensive period of time. Consequently, scholars still find the Gospel writers’ theological message about Jesus antithetical to their historical preservation of him. If correct, such claims reduce the Gospels to a mere collection of facts that have no meaningful proclamation for the world to heed. For the church, then, there is no place for NT theology, only historical reconstructions of what the Gospels may have said.

Richard Bauckham’s very helpful answer.

In his Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, Richard Bauckham finds these assumptions misguided. He argues the Gospels represent trustworthy historiography based on the authoritative testimony of real eyewitnesses that remained the primary sources for each Gospel writer’s account. Long periods of time filled with the succession of oral traditions did not delay the Gospels’ composition. Instead, their final form is “much closer to the form in which the eyewitnesses” testified (6). Accepted and studied on this appropriate and more natural basis, the Gospels not only provide reliable history concerning Jesus, but also grant theological access to the meaning of his life and mission. Bauckham shows the validity of such an argument on several fronts.

He begins with an ancient passage written by Papias, former bishop of Hierapolis, which demonstrates a peculiar preference for a certain kind of authentic, historical practice in his day, namely, history based on oral traditions “attached to named eyewitnesses” (20, emphasis mine). In a word, when doing history, pride of place went to written sources that were compiled while eyewitnesses were present. Naturally, then, Papias trusted the Gospels since they each exhibited this superior historiography-an assertion Bauckham also proves in the remainder of the book.

In accord with Papias’ conclusion, Bauckham then reveals that since the authors based their Gospels on eyewitness testimony, they also named the very eyewitnesses in their accounts. They did so fully aware that these individuals “not only originated the traditions…but also continued to tell the stories as authoritative guarantors of their traditions” (39). In other words, the Gospel writers mentioned named persons intentionally to ensure the authenticity of their words. Such named individuals would still have been alive while the Gospels were written and would be able to verify the Evangelists’ words. Examples include the Twelve, the women at the cross and tomb, those healed by Jesus, and those able to testify of Jesus’ story “from the beginning.”

Next, Bauckham considers the eyewitnesses’ role in the nature of the transmission of the Synoptic Gospel traditions. He argues the eyewitnesses were not merely the sources of the Gospels, but also served as the “accessible authoritative guarantors” of them (241). Form critics were wrong to assume that Christian communities were strictly oral, without written texts, and thus free to create traditions to promote their social agendas. Instead, these guarantors used deliberate means of control in the Gospels’ transmission, evidence to which even the Apostle Paul alludes regarding Jesus’ tradition (e.g. 1 Cor 7:10-16; 11:23). Matthew, Mark, and Luke are the result of “formal controlled tradition,” by means of “recollective” memorization, accompanied by written sources and access to authoritative eyewitnesses (264, 324).

The same can be said of the fourth Gospel. What is more, John’s account is not merely based on eyewitness testimony, but is itself written by an eyewitness. According to Bauckham, John employs the idiomatic “‘we’ of eyewitness testimony” (i.e. the first person plural for ‘I’) in order to demonstrate that he himself is both the primary witness for his Gospel and the author who wrote it. John’s basis is not “the official witness of the twelve,” but himself as the beloved disciple (403).

Finally, Bauckham asserts that since the Gospels are testimony, their very nature demands that scholars not criticize their every pericope in order to discover the real Jesus, but to receive them for what they are, testimony. The Evangelists beckon the audience to trust their testimony, one that unites reliable witness to the historical Jesus and provides theological access to him. Jesus, therefore, is the Jesus of testimony, and the Gospels as testimony are “the theologically appropriate, indeed necessary way of access to the history of Jesus, just as testimony is also the historically appropriate, indeed the historically necessary way of access to this ‘uniquely unique’ historical event” (508).

What are the implications of Bauckham’s contribution for the Church and her theological goals in interpreting the Gospels?

The implications of Bauckham’s argument that the Gospels should be accepted as testimony are rather significant for ‘doing’ NT theology. Indeed, they establish the NT theologian on the foundation of four historically reliable Gospels, while simultaneously providing theological access to Jesus, his words, life, and mission. With testimony, historical fact and theological meaning come together. In this way, one is able to construct the beginnings of a NT theology; for the Gospels function as four distinct narratives that open the NT canon with eyewitness accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus, and supply theological interpretation of his unique soteriological/eschatological mission granted him by God the Father for the sake of all nations.

I. An Introduction & The Beginning of NT Theology

January 29, 2008

Briefly introducing the discipline and the issues of New Testament theology

For some critical scholars, the pursuit of a single coherent New Testament (NT) theology is an impossible task considering the diverse historical and literary elements of the first-century canonical documents. Furthermore, such a task attempts to unite historical analyses with theological convictions in a manner that does not suit their so-called “appropriate” interpretive methods. Thus, for these critical scholars, it is problematic to speak of a NT theology as the goal for exegesis and interpretation; at most, one must conclude there are only differing (and by this at times they mean contradicting) NT theologies.

Although these claims have caused Christian scholars, who trust the biblical writers’ historical assertions and the theological unity of the NT’s twenty-seven books, to refine their approach to NT theology, they have not gone unchallenged. Evangelical NT scholars such as Richard Bauckham, David Wenham, George Ladd (and others) have provided influential contributions against these challenges of critical scholarship. By observing some of their conclusions alongside the testimony of the NT authors, a more accurate and synthetic approach to NT theology emerges, one that both recognizes historical contexts and maintains theological unity, even within the framework of the writers’ theological diversity. 

What do we mean by “New Testament Theology”?

NT theology arises first from the Church‘s desire to hear and heed what exactly the NT authoritatively teaches. As Markus Bockmuehl has rightly observed, the NT itself testifies of “a close intellectual link between…conversion and true interpretation” (Seeing the Word, [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006], 70). NT theology is a subset of and inextricably linked with the broader discipline of biblical theology. Functioning as a Christian discipline, NT theology submits to the unique apostolic word found within the NT canon, receives the narrative testimony proclaimed there, assesses its writers’ contents in their proper pastoral/situational contexts, and draws conclusions regarding its theological claims. In this way, NT theology serves the church’s faith, because it helps her to know and understand what the discourse of the NT teaches about the one true God of the OT, who in these last days has spoken to us by a Son, namely, Jesus Christ (Heb 1:1-2).

Where then should we begin New Testament Theology?

What is unique about God’s revelation in the NT, therefore, is that it is primarily to be recognized in the Son whom he sent and by whom he has spoken in these final days. Thus, the NT itself (like the OT) demands that it be read in light of its primary focal point, Jesus, the Word made flesh. For this reason, we turn to understanding the nature of the Four Gospels and their functional role in the NT canon as the first step in developing a NT theology, since they bear witness to Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world.

The Discipline and Coherence of New Testament Theology

January 29, 2008

During my last semester of my Master of Divinity, the Lord placed me under the leadership of some SWBTS professors (esp. Dr. Paul Wolfe & Dr. Paul Hoskins), assigned me some very helpful works to read from Evangelical scholars, and provided fruitful relationships with two Christian brothers (Billy Marsh & Jason Snider). Together, all these brothers helped me as I worked through the discipline of New Testament Theology. In the near future, I plan to post some of my own reflections on this topic in combination with others like Richard Bauckham and David Wenham. Due to the nature of the topic, I will divide the reflections into a series of at least eight posts.

My goal in doing this is to provide the larger community of faith with a better understanding of how the twenty-seven books of the New Testament not only fit together in the canon, but also in their testimony to the Son of God, Jesus Christ. For those of you who might not be as familiar with some of the interconnected issues involved in doing New Testament theology, or find yourself lost in some of the terminology, I would encourage you to interact with me and others using the comments option or email me. I pray this will be a fruitful activity in helping us all to gain Christ as he stands forth from the text’s testimony. The following eight posts should look something like this:

  1. Introduction & the Beginning of New Testament Theology
  2. The Nature & Role of the Gospels
  3. The Role of Acts of the Apostles
  4. The Role of Paul’s Contribution
  5. The Role of Hebrews & the General Epistles
  6. The Role of the Revelation
  7. The Coherence of the New Testament’s Theology
  8. Conclusion on New Testament Theology & Its Application

Prostitute Rahab’s Salvation and the Irruption of God’s Reign

January 28, 2008

A year ago, I had the gracious privilege of translating the ninth chapter of Exodus for a paper in a Hebrew class. Primarily, I dealt with Exodus 9:13-16 in order to gain a better understanding of God’s purpose in Pharaoh to reveal his mighty power and manifest his covenant name in all the earth (click here to read that paper). Again and again, the text of Scripture testified that all of God’s sovereign acts in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, the sending of the plagues upon Egypt, and the delayed deliverance of his people had a unique design behind them. In line with the narratives of Creation (Gen 1:1ff), the Flood (Gen 6-7), the tower of Babel (Gen 11), the call of Abraham (Gen 12), and Joseph’s captivity-turned-rule in Egypt (Gen 37-45), the Exodus (esp. chapters 1-15) demonstrates the irruption (not erruption) of God’s kingdom and its establishment on earth. Exodus 9:13-16 shows how this happens through God’s purpose to make known his mighty power and redemption in association with his covenant name.

Now I am translating Joshua, and what struck me yesterday was that this very theme running through the Exodus narrative (and through the entire Pentateuch!), becomes front and center in the narrative of Rahab the prostitute hiding the Israelite spies (Josh 2:1-24). Why had she helped the spies of God’s covenant people? Here is her answer: “I know that the Lord [Yahweh] has given you the land, and that the terror of you [Israelites] has fallen on us, and that all of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the Lord [Yahweh] dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. When we heard, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; because the Lord [Yahweh] your God, he is God in heaven above and on earth below” (Josh 2:9-11).

Rahab’s response to the inbreaking of God’s rule is breathtaking. In the Exodus, the Lord desired to make his mighty power known. Here, we find Rahab testifying that she indeed fears the Lord. What is more, in the Exodus, the Lord purposes to make known his covenant name (i.e. Yahweh) in all the earth. Here, we find Rahab testifying that she not only trembles before Yahweh, but believes Yahweh himself is GOD! Indeed, he is God of heaven and earth, a rejection of the Canaanite gods, and a confession of the God of Israel. According to the New Testament, this places Rahab in the covenant community, those who have the same faith of Abraham (Matt 1:5; Heb 11:31; Jas 2:25).

We find, then, that in the Exodus narrative, God is not only placing fear in the hearts of people, such as Rahab, but associating his covenant name with the salvation and deliverance of his covenant people, even those Gentiles who trust him. Thus, the fear of the Lord is surely to be associated with the One who is mighty to save, a testimony consistent with the entire Old Testament and which looks forward to the Messiah, his cross, his resurrection, and his return. The New Testament says this Messiah’s name is Jesus. Rahab’s barriers of being a Canaanite and a prostitute are no challenge for the triumph of his cross and resurrection. She feared and trusted in the one true God who brought so great a salvation in his Son. Are you? 

Saint Augustine On General & Special Revelation

January 27, 2008

“There is sufficient clearness to enlighten the elect, and sufficient obscurity to humble them. There is sufficient obscurity to blind the reprobate, and sufficient clearness to condemn them, and make them inexcusable.”

Augustine II

These sentences, and others like them, not only teach me doctrine, but also encourage me to make every sentence count for Christ’s sake and the sake of the church.

Interpreting the Historical Books

January 20, 2008

An Exegetical Handbook (Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis) 

Chisholm, Robert B., Jr. Interpreting the Historical Books: An Exegetical Handbook. Handbooks for Old Testament. Edited by David M. Howard, Jr. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006. 231 pp. $19.99.

One of my assigned readings this weekend for my “Hebrew Exegesis of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth” class was Interpreting the Historical Books: An Exegetical Handbook, by Robert B. Chisholm, Jr. His chief goal is to help students of the “Historical Books” of the Old Testament (Josh, Judg, Ruth, 1-2 Sam, 1-2 Kgs, 1-2 Chr, Ezr, Neh, Est) comprehend the nature of their narrative literature, derive theological conclusions from such discourse by using various interpretive tools, and apply the books’ authoritative truth to the contemporary covenant community.

He divides his book into six chapters each of which build upon the other. Chapter one answers the question, “What is narrative literature?” Here, he discusses how the narrative genre works in communicating God’s redemptive purposes through his people, Israel. Steps for the interpreter include (1) analyzing the basic elements of the story such as setting, characters, and plot; (2) identifying the text’s discourse and dramatic structures; (3) paying attention to the kind of discourse and the varying speech function(s) within each; (4) respecting the narrator’s authoritative interpretation of the events; (5) observing each story within its larger canonical “macroplot”; and (6) being sensitive to matters of meaningful intertextuality.

Having explained the function of narrative literature in chapter one, Chisholm then provides a thematic and theological overview of each Historical Book and their own contribution to the macroplot of the Old Testament in chapter two. Chapter three attempts to set the Historical Books within their proper historical situation in the Ancient Near East, while also giving direction to the exegete in difficult matters of textual criticism. On the latter, Chisholm offers two basic principles: (1) “One should not automatically assume that the traditional Masoretic text preserves the original text;” and (2) “One should base text critical decisions primarily on internal considerations” (146-48). Scattered throughout chapter three is also a helpful selected bibliography for the interpretation of each Historical Book.

Chapter four addresses the question of whether interpretation of the Historical Books should be more diachronic (i.e. focused on the origins, sources, and development of the text [167]) or synchronic (i.e. focused on the meaning of the text in its final canonical form [178]). His conclusion seems fair: “We propose an interpretive method that is essentially synchronic, but that is also sensitive to the historical and cultural background of the text and respectful of the narrator’s authority. …we prefer to focus on the text in the form in which we have it and to assume an editorial unity.” (184). For the most part, Chisholm encourages interpretation that is sensitive to macroplot and canonical context.

Included in his synchronic approach is also the identification of the “implied readers”, that is, the audience the author envisioned to be impacted by his books’ message (181). Since the Historical Books span the pre- and post-Exilic periods, and the corpus eventually was considered in its final canonical form, Chisholm concludes that both communities are in mind. Such a conclusion allows him to make an easy jump in chapter five to how one should handle proclaiming the narrative texts to the community of faith. In his words, “The text is Scripture and has meaning and relevance beyond its original context” (187, emphasis mine). Communicating the truth of the Scripture’s historical narratives in a contemporary setting, therefore, means allowing the text to establish the interpreter’s theological foundation, upon which he or she must make “homiletical trajectories” that will provide personal application. Chisholm himself then provides two examples of such a task in chapter six, one from 2 Kings and another from Ruth.

Chisholm’s book is helpful overall because it provides the exegete of the Historical Books with the right questions to ask in interpreting a narrative, at least initially. He does a good job summarizing the themes of the Historical Books, and better enables one to understand the Books’ theological relevance to the covenant community, both then and now. Chisholm does offer an interpretation of the Historical Books that ultimately points us to Christ through his understanding of the promise to David’s throne and the testimony of the entire canon. I would have liked to see how more of this Christological (yes, Christological) emphasis played out in his exegesis, especially within his discussion of the implied readers/covenant community, but this would be hard to elaborate much more in so few pages. In the end, I have found much of Chisholm’s interpretive method very useful and would recommend it as a guide to those in the beginning stages of exegesis and interpretation of Old Testament narrative.

Men’s Retreat: Purity In This Present Evil Age

January 15, 2008

Purity Conference at Redeemer Church

Please click here in order to contact Redeemer Church concerning more information on the retreat (e.g. registration; cost; father-son opportunities; etc.).

Emmanuel: God With Us…TODAY!

January 13, 2008

In the mornings, I have been reading through the Gospel according to Matthew. Without doubt, I have found the evangelist’s testimony very comforting during this time as my wife and I seek his face and ask for his wisdom concerning the next few months with a baby on the way and doctoral work just around the corner (Lord willing for both). This is so because at both ends of his testimony concerning Jesus, the son of Abraham, the Son of David, there lies an outstanding emphasis concerning the nature of the incarnation and his current reign, the nature of this Messiah’s coming to his people then and this same Messiah’s presence with his people now.

At the beginning of his Gospel, Matthew helps us to see that Jesus is the expected Messiah from Abraham’s progeny and David’s royal line (Matt 1:1-17). In a sense, we might say that Matthew picked up the pen the Chronicler laid down in order to continue the Gospel-narrative set forth by the Old Testament (1 Chr 5:2 [cf. Gen 49:10]; 14:2 [cf. Num 24:7]; 2 Chr 6:6; 9:8; 21:7; 36:22-23). What is unique about this seed of Abraham, this son of David, is that he will not be begot (or “fathered”) by a man, as those in verses 1:2-16a, but by the Lord himself. The virgin Mary will conceive, and the child would be “of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:20). What is more, this baby shall be called “‘Emmanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us'”, in fulfillment of what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah (1:22-23 [Isa 7:14]). 

At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, following his identification of Jesus with Isaiah‘s Suffering Servant (Matt 8:17 [Isa 53:4]), especially in his passion narrative (Matt 26:63 [Isa 53:7]; 26:67 [Isa 50:6; cf. 53:5]), God triumphantly raises Jesus from the dead and gives him all authority in heaven and on earth, a declaration Jesus shares with his disciples on the designated mountain (Matt 28:18). Because Jesus reigns, all the nations will be discipled, baptized, and taught (28:19-20a). What is more, Jesus states “Behold, I am [present tense!] with you all the days until the end of the age” (28:20b), a reverberation of Matthew 1:23, a rather fitting conclusion to Matthew’s testimony, and a message we must grasp today.

I find this book-end emphasis in Matthew’s Gospel quite intriguing, but even more so amazing, especially in its connection with Isaiah’s message. Throughout Isaiah, we find a unique theme concerning mount Zion. Zion lay in shambles as Isaiah preached to the rebellious Judah and Jerusalem (Isa 1:8; 3:16); however, such a desperate state did not hinder the Lord from declaring Gospel-promise, a coming day of redemption (2:2-3; 9:7; 52:8; 59:20; 60:14; 66:8). For Isaiah, Zion is the place where God dwells in majesty with his purified people, the throne of his appointed redeemer-king, and the place of refuge for all his children, even all the nations (2:3; 8:18; 14:32; 18:7; 24:23; 28:16; 35:10; 40:9; 46:13; 51:3, 16; 59:20). In this sense, Isaiah’s overall “Zion” message is nothing less than Gospel for his listeners. God will bring about a day of redemption through his appointed king who dwells with his people on Zion’s hill.

When we read Matthew’s Gospel in light of Isaiah’s glorious Zion motif we find something spectacular. Isaiah’s expected son, Emmanuel, is Jesus Christ, the son of David. He is God, and is indeed with us. He dwelt among us when he came humbly as a man–even more, a suffering servant. Having bore our iniquities on the cross, having been raised from the dead to ever reign as king, Zion’s King(!), he promises to be present with us, to dwell with us, until our faith becomes sight. God came to be among us in Christ; he still is among us in Christ, and for that reason we shall endure this age and press on in the faith, gathering the nations and telling them all to behold the King whom the Lord has seated on Zion’s hill.