Monday, March 27, 2017

Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, Book Review

Title: Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels
Publisher: Baylor University Press, 2016
Price: $59.95 (amz)
Binding: Hardcover
Pages: 504
In Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (Yale University Press, 1989), Richard Hays sought to examine the creative ways that Paul appropriated the Hebrew Scriptures in his letters. In this volume, Hays applies his intertextual approach to a sustained study of the Gospels in order to “open up fruitful lines of inquiry” about these texts (xiii).

As in his other works, Hays here seeks to account for both direct citations of Scripture in the Gospels and also the more subtle ways the Gospel authors associate and link their books to the texts, themes, and images of the Hebrew Bible. Hays contends that “only if we embrace figural interpretation” can we make sense of the Gospel writers’ claim that “the Scriptures bear witness to Jesus Christ” (2). By figural interpretation, Hays means “a reading that grasps patterns of correspondence between temporally distinct events, so that these events freshly illuminate each other” (358).

Accordingly, the four major chapters of the book examine evidence of this figural christological interpretation in Mark (chapter one), Matthew (chapter two), Luke (chapter three), and finally John (chapter four). Overall, Hays seeks to demonstrate that each of the Gospel writers employ this shared strategy but do so in unique and distinct ways. Because “figural interpretation” involves both prospective and retrospective elements (reading forward and backwards), Hays maintains that this reading strategy “creates deep theological coherence within the biblical narrative” and “stands at the heart of the New Testament’s message” (3).

For Hays, then, the intertextual strategy of the Gospel writers is perceptive rather than poorly executed or perfunctory, figural rather than finicky or formulaic, and surprising rather than spurious. 

In a candid preface, Hays details his unexpected battle with pancreatic cancer and also the expedited process that allowed this volume to appear so quickly. Though the final production of the book was abbreviated, the development of his approach and study of the Gospels has been many years in the making. The result is an enriched and thoroughgoing treatment of intertextuality in the four Gospels.

Many will disagree with the overall approach or certain aspects of Hays’ study. Some might point out the possible pitfalls, for instance, of articulating the “possible pitfalls of Matthew’s hermeneutic” (352). Some will also want to root the nature of figural interpretation more firmly in an author’s intention rather than a reader’s perception. However, all should be thankful that Hays was able to gift the scholarly community with this culmination of his careful reflection on the Gospels and the Hebrew Scriptures.

Hays insists that “the thing that matters in the end is the actual reading and interpretation of the primary texts” (xvi). This volume provides a host of careful observations that will aid readers of the Gospels in this ever-important task.
Also in SWJT, forthcoming.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

ESV Reader's Bible—Six-Volume Set, Book Review

Title: ESV Reader's Bible.
Six Volume Set
Publisher: Crossway, 2016
Price: $199 (amz)
Binding: Cloth over Board with Permanent Slipcase
Pages: multiple volumes
With the ESV Study Bible, Crossway’s team loaded a remarkable amount of additional resources and materials alongside the biblical text. The purpose of the added material, of course, is to enhance the understanding of the text and its background. With the ESV Readers Bible, they move in the opposite direction, seeking to remove all extraneous information and markings with a complementary goal of making the text as reader-friendly as possible.

The physical features of this edition are straightforward and high-quality. The typeface features a 12 point reader friendly font (Trinité No. 2 Roman) with extra spacing between lines. The paper is soft but thick enough to prevent obvious bleed through from the next page. Obvious care was taken in the printing and binding (from a bindery in Italy). Each volume is cloth hardback with Smyth-sewyn binding. This quality allows both the larger and the smaller volumes to lay flat when opened on a surface and feel natural when holding them in your hands. The base text is drawn from the 2016 “ESV Permanent Text Edition.”

There are several features of this “reader’s Bible” that are designed to enhance a reader’s experience with the biblical text (sometimes called “paratextual features”). The function of these features stems not from how the editors supplement the text but rather how they showcase the text.

The Flow of the Discourse
The central feature of this edition can best be seen in what cannot be seen on each page. Well-established and long-running trends in Bible production fill the margins, footers, and headers with as much information as possible. The medieval version of this type of supplement is represented by the familiar system of chapter and verse divisions. These features have been omitted from this edition, so that for the most part, a reader encounters the biblical text without breaking points. The text is presented in a single column in the center of the page surrounded on each side by generous margins. There are page numbers at the bottom of the page and an index in each volume that lists the location of the original chapters.

This streamlined feature is particularly helpful when reading narrative, as the stopping points are organic to the story or account itself. You simply stop reading where the story ends. Shifts in genre are also more prominent. One of the calling cards of biblical books is the blend of literary genres. Because the editors still mark out poetic texts with unique margins and spacing, a reader is able to see clearly where narrative ends and poetry begins.

Even in non-narrative texts, this feature can introduce fresh readings of familiar passages. For example, one of the unique aspects of the letter to the Hebrews is its repeated shifts from exposition to exhortation. When reading the letter through without chapter breaks, I perceived several textual connections between sections that I had previously neglected. This experience allowed me to recognize the implicit hermeneutical significance I typically attribute to verse and chapter divisions.

The Shape of the Biblical Canon 
Because the pages are thicker and the margins are wider, there are six volumes to accommodate the amount of textual material. While a foreign concept to most contemporary Bible readers, this scenario echoes a significant time in the Bible’s history when biblical books were gathered and circulated in groupings. Thus, this reader’s edition can function not only as a novelty item but also a teaching opportunity.

For instance, the series of six volumes visibly and strikingly communicates the textual real estate that belongs to the Old Testament. The looming volumes of the Pentateuch (507 pp), the Historical Books (690 pp), the Prophets (768 pp), and the Poetic books (504 pp) stand out against the two slender volumes of the Gospels and Acts (365 pp), and the Epistles and Revelation (336 pp). Using this Bible regularly could subtly influence a reader to reckon with the foundational and textual importance of the Old Testament when thinking about the Bible as a whole. Utilizing an edition like this also allows you to conceive how the concept of “canon” could function before the invention of a codex large enough to contain the entire collection.

Being able to take a grouping into your hands also allows a reader to consider the importance of biblical theology and canonical interpretation. One immediately notices how much narrative is in the Bible. When readers make a selection, they also hold in their hands a discrete grouping or a collection of biblical books. These two physical actions can remind readers of the interconnectedness of these two concepts: the big picture of the Bible’s grand storyline is rooted in the shape of the gathered canonical sub-collections. Here we see diversity (several volumes) in light of a canonical unity (within a single conceptual and physical edition).

The Effect of Searching for the Intertext
Another significant feature of this edition is the absence of any cross-references or text-critical notes (the front matter directs readers to for this information). One might think that because of the vast amount of information available to us as readers, we are in a better position to know how our Bible fits together.

However, oftentimes instant search capabilities or the ubiquitous presence of cross-references can actually short-circuit the organic mental steps necessary to identify, conceptually locate, and hermeneutically account for the presence of an intertextual connection. Editions like the ESV Reader’s Bible can help us recover the art of intertextual discernment and begin training those mental muscles that the age of new media has atrophied.

The Hermeneutics of Headings

One disappointing aspect of this edition for me is the presence of editorial headings. Though most modern versions of the Bible include extrabiblical headings that summarize sections and provide helpful signposts in the text, the reader’s edition was meant to allow the text itself to occupy center stage.

The presence of a heading breaks the flow of any text and involves an interpretive move. Accordingly, the presence of a heading influences the reading and interpretation of a literary work. One might respond that there are only a limited number of these headings and they are intended to summarize the content. While true, this response misses the subtle ways that paratextual elements influence a reader’s perception of the meaning of a text. Also, because the editors only place a limited number of headings in a particular book, this actually gives them a much more prominent role in the flow of each volume.

I say missed opportunity because the goal of the reader’s edition is to allow the text to demonstrate its own structural framework. The heading at Isaiah 40, for instance, signals something that the text itself could have done. There is a discernable shift from a prophetic message of judgment to one of salvation. However, the shape of Isaiah itself communicates this, as there is a clear literary shift from a narrative form to a poetic one, and the opening sequence of this new major section of the book is, “Comfort, comfort!” Thus, the editors perhaps missed an opportunity to allow their wonderful idea to have its fullest effect.

The strategic function of a narrative account in Isa 46-49 is also introduced by the unartful heading, “A Historical Vignette.” I actually agree with the decision to provide “sense divisions” that include extra spacing between large sections of texts and a raised initial letter of the first word. Perhaps utilizing this more subtle discourse marker would have assisted readers making their way through large swaths of text but also allowed the flow of the discourse to create cohesion between sections.

Headings are also inescapably hermeneutical, as they interpret the content and structure of a larger block of text. Most of the headings are minimal and generally unobtrusive, thus helping readers maintain a sense of where they are at in larger texts. Though, some are better than others. To the point, it’s difficult to see how “Creation and Fall,” “Introduction to the Son of God,” and “Introduction and the Seven Churches” improve upon the elegance of the initial lines of those texts: “In the beginning” and “The beginning of the gospel,” and “The revelation of Jesus Christ.”

This very minor disappointment is not really a criticism but rather a talking point prompted by the stellar design concept of the ESV Reader’s Bible. The cost of this special edition is significant, but it would make an excellent gift or a worthwhile investment.

The enduring value of any publication of the Bible is its ability to help readers focus on the biblical text itself. This beautiful edition is uniquely equipped to leave the reader be and let the reader read!

Also in Themelios, forthcoming.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Manifesto for Theological Interpretation, Book Review

Title: A Manifesto for Theological Interpretation 
Editors: Craig G. Bartholomew and Heath A. Thomas
Publisher: Baker, 2016
Price: $29.99 (amz)
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 304
Bartholomew and Thomas define theological interpretation broadly as “interpretation of the Bible for the church” (ix). In this volume, they identify key issues and chart a path for those flying under this banner. Their version is interdisciplinary, ecumenical, and involves the broadest spectrum possible between the churches and the scholarly guilds.

The “manifesto” they provide (1-25) is the collaborative effort of a group of scholars associated with the Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar. In their understanding, this statement “tries to make public the central tenets that help to orient theological reading of Scripture so as to hear God’s address” (x). The manifesto also highlights areas “informing theological interpretation that may otherwise be ignored or neglected in the reading of Scripture” (x).

The essays that follow exposit each of the twelve sections of the manifesto and are intended to flesh out what a theological interpretation of Scripture might look like from these angles. In short, their manifesto argues that contemporary theological interpretation of Scripture is a reemergence of an ancient practice (1), that affirms a robust view of divinely inspired Scripture (2), that values the central context of the church (3), that sees itself as a reasonable alternative to historical criticism (4), that selectively utilizes insights of hermeneutics and philosophy (5), that seeks to reckon with the nature of the Bible as a canonical collection (6), that makes use of the resurgence of biblical theology (7), that emphasizes the role of mission (8), that involves the goal of transformation (9), that includes shared theological commitments (10), that sees the necessary connection between theology and exegesis (11), and that is committed to the creative application of Scripture to all of life (12).

The manifesto itself is carefully worded, and the essays are strictly focused on their given topic. This feature gives a tight coherence to the volume and makes it an important methodological resource. The range of issues addressed also demonstrates the value of the book and the challenge of this broad approach. Reading through the volume will allow someone to grapple with the daunting but exciting reality that the theological interpreter can never be the master of only one skill set. This scenario points to the need for generalists in the churches and the academy.

One of the difficulties faced by the theological interpretation movement is a sense that the approaches that fly under its banner are so diverse that it is a mistake to characterize them together. Perhaps a gentle critique of this project might be with the singular noun in the title. Even though each of the contributors aim at expositing a central tenet of the primary affirmation, these essays sometimes feel like a series of individual manifestos that nevertheless bear a striking family resemblance.

But, perhaps, this might be a welcome metaphor. As with any healthy family reunion, the diversity present around the table of biblical interpreters highlights their unifying filial identity and the fact that they gather around a shared scriptural feast. As Bartholomew and Emerson conclude, this family of theological interpreters aims to “work out what biblical interpretation might look like as an expression of the obedience of faith” (273).

This volume contains an ambitious roadmap (or perhaps treasure map) that locates several ancient paths that hopefully more and more readers of the Bible will seek to traverse.
Also in SWJT, forthcoming

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Monday, March 13, 2017

How the Bible Came to Be (pt 5)

6. “Closing” the Canon: Discerning the Canonical Boundaries 

We are now in a position to investigate the “closing” of the canon. Here we ask, “How do we discern the boundaries of the canon?”

Because we have defined canon as an authoritative collection of authoritative writings, we have already affirmed that the writings that make up the divinely commissioned collection are "inspired" and in this sense implicitly authoritative as soon as they are written and gathered together. The role of the believing community, then, is to recognize this divinely given collection of writings.

So, this casts the quest in a slightly different light. We're not so much determining canonical boundaries as we are discerning them. Of course, this aspect of our approach to the biblical canon is directly theological. This feature, though, is appropriate and necessary when considering a collection of writings that we claim reveal God himself and his ways.

Several lines of evidence can help us with this process of recognition. We need to examine both internal evidence within the Bible and external evidence from the writings of the early churches. What follows is an outline of the types of internal evidence that we can discern for the closure of the OT and the NT.

6.1 Internal Evidence for the Closure of the OT
For the Old Testament, there is both a narrow collection of books (represented in the Hebrew Masoretic Text) and a wider collection of books that include the books known as the apocrypha or deuterocanonical books (represented in some Greek manuscript traditions). These additional books were typically written in the period between the time of the last of the writing prophets (like Malachi) and the time of the New Testament. Today, some churches and traditions accept all of these books and others reject them.

When considering the internal evidence of the New Testament, there are several reasons that encourage us to recognize the established canon of the Hebrew Bible that does not include the apocrypha.

1. References to the Shape of the Hebrew Bible. In a few places in the New Testament, there are indications that the version of the Scriptures that Jesus and the apostles used resembles the shape of the Hebrew Bible we find in the ancient manuscripts.

Luke 24For example, at the end of the Gospel of Luke, the resurrected Jesus walks the road to Emmaus with two broken-hearted disciples lamenting Jesus' death in Jerusalem. Jesus fields their questions and insists that the suffering of the Messiah does not side-step God's plan. Jesus' chosen means of discipleship is a comprehensive study of the Hebrew Scriptures. As Luke records, "beginning with Moses and all the Prophets," Jesus "interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Lk 24:27). Later, Jesus explains to his disciples that, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Luke then comments that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Lk 24:44-45). Jesus seems to point here to the three-part shape the Hebrew Bible (Law, Prophets, and Writings).

Luke 11Earlier in Luke 11:49-52, Jesus refers to Israel’s history in a way that seems to be based on the narrative sequence in the Hebrew Bible that begins in Genesis and ends with the book of Chronicles. Jesus mentions “the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation” (11:50-51).

The temporal spectrum that Jesus presents is not only historical but textual. Zechariah is not the last historical prophet to be martyred in the recorded history of Israel, but he is the last prophet killed in the book of Chronicles (2 Chron 24.20-24). By placing Abel, the first murdered individual recorded in the Pentateuch (Gen 4:8-10), side by side with Zechariah, the last murdered individual recorded in the book of Chronicles, Jesus seems to be referencing the shape of the narrative that is generated by the framework of the Hebrew Bible. In this sense, Jesus brings the entirety of the Hebrew Bible to bear on the individuals he is condemning in Luke 11.

Matt 1The way the New Testament begins with Matthew's Gospel is also significant. Matthew has a unique and prominent role at the very beginning of the New Testament canon. In particular, Matthew begins with a theologically loaded description: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt 1:1). Each of the elements in these 17 verses is an allusion or echo of the Old Testament.

Truly, the covenantal overtones of these few words is explosive and majestic. The unique phrase, "book of the genealogy" echoes the "the book of the generations of Adam" of Gen 5:1 and more broadly the "generations of the heavens and the earth" of Gen 2:4. Matthew, then, is a book of beginnings that begins, "In the Begining" (Gen 1:1). The new Adam's story goes all the way back to the first Adam and even to the dawn of creation. The "Christ" recalls the promises about a coming Messiah or "anointed one" (Ps 2; Dan 7) and the "son of David, son of Abraham" recall that the promised "anointed one" would come through the line of Abraham and David (Gen 12; 2 Sam 7). By beginning in this way, Matthew directly roots this spectrum of Messianic expectation firmly in the soil of the first book of the Hebrew Bible.

This opening salvo is followed by a carefully crafted genealogy that goes from Abraham to David to Exile to Jesus (Matt 1:2-17). Matthew thus connects the messianic expectation raised by the first sentence to the messianic expectation found most clearly in the final book of the Hebrew Bible, the only other book in the biblical canon that begins with a genealogy (see 1 Chron 1-9). Significantly, the genealogy of Chronicles begins with Adam and ends up with a focus on David. The structural parallel to the Book of Chronicles introduces the notions of exile, return from exile, and the hope of a coming “son of David” into the beginning of Matthew’s narrative.

So, Matthew makes a literary reference to the first book of the Hebrew Bible and also the last book of the Hebrew Bible. By beginning his narrative in this way, Matthew strikingly asserts that the proper context within which to read his message about Jesus is the Hebrew Bible as a whole. Indeed, before he begins the story of Jesus' birth in 1:18, Matthew places before the reader's eyes a microcosm of the entire Hebrew Bible (a kind of Hebrew Bible in miniature!).

These ways of referring to the Scriptures imply that the biblical collection Jesus and the apostles made use of was the well-established Law, Prophets, and Writings. Indeed, they seem to know the entirety of the Hebrew Bible and also seem to know it as an entirety.

A Little External SupportThese NT examples are supported by a number of external witnesses to a three-fold shape of the Hebrew Scriptures among the Jewish communities before the time of the NT. For example, the prologue to Ben Sira, a wisdom writing in the intertestamental period (apx 2nd century BC), refers to the Hebrew Scriptures as the Law, the Prophets, and the “other books.” This three-fold division is mentioned three times in the short prologue. This work is a part of the broader group of apocryphal writings mentioned above. Several of these writings seem to refer to the books of the Hebrew Bible as an established and authoritative collection. This deference to the Law and Prophets, then, is another reason to think the writers of the apocryphal writings did not consider themselves to be adding to the already "closed" Hebrew Bible.

2. The “quotation patterns” of the NT: Across the NT, writers are virtually exclusive in citing the books of the narrow Hebrew Bible. The NT writers quote from all of the major sections of the Hebrew Scriptures. Conversely, while some non-canonical writings are mentioned in the NT, none of these are cited “as Scripture” or attributed to God or the Spirit.

3. The Scriptures are often the common ground for debate: In the New Testament narratives and epistles, Jesus and the apostles engage in numerous debates with Jewish leaders. Many of these debates are exegetical. They argue at length about the interpretation of Old Testament texts. Or, they debate theological topics and both sides cite texts or themes from the Old Testament to make their case. The authority, of these texts, however, is never in doubt. Both sides generally assume the authority of the book of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.

4. No Dispute in the NT over OT Canonical Boundaries: Also striking is the fact that in these interpretive disputes, there is basic agreement regarding the extent of the OT canon. We see many debates over canonical texts, but virtually no debate on whether those texts are canonical.

5. Assumed Continuity with the OT Storyline: As a general point, the NT writers assume that their teaching is in line with OT teaching and locate their place in redemptive history in relation to the storyline of the Hebrew Bible (cf. Rom 15:3-6; 2 Tim 3:14ff, etc). The authors of the NT claim to continue the storyline of the OT Scriptures. They claim that their message of Jesus as the promised Messiah “accords” with Scripture. The new message of Jesus was articulated and understood in terms of ancient promises.

For these broad reasons, we can say that there is strong internal evidence from the New Testament itself that indicates that Jesus and the Apostles read and treasured the already established canon of the Hebrew Bible (what is now represented in the books of an English Old Testament).

Next Week: Pt 6Internal Evidence for the Closure of the NT
Or: Go to pt 1

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