dinsdag 18 december 2012

Thompson - Hebrews - Paideia - review


James W. Thompson. Hebrews (Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament), Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008. vii + 328 pp. $27.99.

James Thompson, Robert and Kay Onstead Distinguished Professor of Biblical Studies at Abilene Christian University, brings the insight and expertise of a veteran teacher to bear on the text of Hebrews. His is the second of eighteen volumes in the Paideia commentary series and is aimed at university and seminary students, though it aims to be useful and accessible for pastors and professors alike. The goal of the commentary is to approach each text in its canonical form, commenting on larger “sense units” rather than commenting verse-by-verse, with a sensitivity to the cultural, literary, and theological settings in which the text took form (p. xi). Each of the commentary’s “sense units” is then explored in three sections. The first deals with introductory matters; the second traces the train of logic and thought; the third addresses hermeneutical and theological questions.

In a twenty-six page introduction, Thompson addresses the topics of author/audience, genre/structure, the book’s purpose, the story world of Hebrews, and encountering Hebrews today. Concerning authorship, Thompson notes the speculative nature of such discussions and concludes that such are not worthwhile (p. 5). Thompson also dismisses attempts to identify the book’s audience, unconvinced that the audience was largely Jewish Christian, though he shows a preference for the conclusions of DeSilva’s sociological perspective regarding loss of honor and the presence of shame concerning the original readers (pp. 8–10). He is equally disinterested in the date of composition, other than to question both pre and post a.d. 70 assertions. In reference to genre, Thompson frames Hebrews in terms of ancient rhetoric, averring that it contains “elements of both deliberative and epideictic rhetoric” (p. 12). The most space is devoted to the question of structure. He rejects the thematic approach of P. E. Hughes and others (Christ Superior to Prophets, etc.) as well as the literary analysis of Vanhoye. Instead, he prefers a rhetorically based structure that builds on the tripartite structure of Nauck, concluding that Hebrews falls into the pattern of classical rhetorical argumentation (pp. 16–20). Hebrews’ purpose is to “reorient a community that has been disoriented by the chasm between the Christian confession of triumph and the reality of suffering that it has experienced” (p. 20). Finally, the thought-world of Hebrews is influenced by the Platonic tradition (p. 23). Yet all is not Platonic, since the presentation of a crucified savior is “irreconcilable with Platonism” (p. 25). Hebrews affirms Christian convictions that cannot be reconciled with Platonism while at the same time making use of Platonic categories to explain Christian existence.

Each section of Hebrews is discussed in three parts. First, Thompson places the text in its ancient context. For example, in 1:5–2:4, Thompson first introduces the reader to the LXX and compares the OT Greek with the Hebrew texts. He notes that such a catena of quotations has similarities with some of the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as the hermeneutics of several ancient Jewish authors. Second, Thompson comments on the text by tracing the train of thought according to “sense units,” which are typically a few verses in length. A third section discusses theological issues of particular interest. Given that Hebrews is so steeped in theology, this reviewer would like to have seen this section lengthened throughout the commentary. Theological students and pastors will perhaps be left wanting if their interest in Hebrews is its theology (for example, almost nothing is said concerning typology, and there is little concerning the use of the OT). Thompson’s discussions, though brief, are still helpful.

Of particular interest to any reader of Hebrews are the warning passages, which Thompson addresses in a unique way. Instead of interacting with current discussions concerning the warnings, he asserts that the “path to progress in understanding this passage [6:4–8] entails not fitting it into a prearranged doctrinal system but placing it within the conventions of the author’s world” (p. 123). He sees little worth in entering into post-Reformation discussions concerning the security of the believer (p. 135). Those described in the warnings are Christians, yet Thompson insists that they have not yet fallen away. The biblical author does not describe something that has happened in the past. Rather, he desires to prevent an action in the future (pp. 133–35; cf. 210–11). This view is similar to Schreiner and Caneday’s The Race Set Before Us, namely, the warnings are prospective and not descriptive. Further, such warnings are likely the author’s usage of a rhetorical device known as deinĊsis—the “attempt to shock the audience” (p. 124). In short, Thompson attempts to explain Hebrews’ warnings not by interaction with the text and scholarship, but by interaction with the text and ancient rhetoric.

This raises a particular concern surrounding the book’s format. There are no footnotes or endnotes, and as such there is no interaction with other scholars. This is an interesting omission given the audience to which the commentary is aimed. It is somewhat balanced by the many helpful charts and figures found throughout, but it seems that any commentary seeking to address “key hermeneutical and theological questions” (as stated on the series website at www.bakerbooks.com) should demonstrate an awareness of and interaction with the various hermeneutical and theological discussions that orbit this NT epistle.

Thompson’s work excels in three primary areas. First, his writing is accessible, lucid, and marked by brevity; students and pastors will find it very readable. Second, the many sidebars and charts strengthen the work, and complement the clear style of writing. Third, Thompson’s expertise in the ancient culture is seen on almost every page. Few commentaries so carefully and ably place Hebrews in its ancient context, and in this regard Thompson’s work is comparable to the work of Attridge. This is its greatest strength and as such deserves its place on the student’s and pastor’s shelf.

As noted, verse-by-verse exegesis is not the stated purpose of the Paideia series, and there are ample works available to the student of Hebrews such as that of Lane, Bruce, Attridge, Ellingworth, and O’Brien that work through matters of grammar and syntax. Pastors and lay leaders will be helped by Thompson’s work, though the commentaries of O’Brien, Lane, G. Guthrie, and Phillips might better serve the busy pastor. In terms of Hebrews’ theology, one should complement this work with that of O’Brien, Lane, or P. E. Hughes. Thompson should be commended for making a helpful contribution to NT studies, and specifically in an area that is becoming increasingly crowded with capable works.

Barry C. Joslin
Boyce College of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Talbert - Romans - SH- review JETS


JETS 47/3 (September 2004)

Romans. By Charles H. Talbert. Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary. Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2002, 360 pp., $50.00.

The intention of this commentary is to bring the insights of a reputable biblical scholar to lifelong students of God’s Word. A multimedia approach is used, bringing together art, photographs, maps, and drawings, all of which are helpful for a visually oriented generation of believers. The commentary seeks to avoid the problem of being so technical on the one hand that the general reader cannot grasp the meaning or on the other hand being so on the surface that the reader is not helped. The basic focus is the biblical text itself and on the wording and structure of texts. The cultural context is considered along with other information from archaeology, ancient history, geography, comparative literature, history of religions, politics, and sociology. A CD-ROM is included with the commentary and provides a very helpful tool for searching the text. This feature could be utilized in preparing a class or in personal research.

An introduction to Romans provides information about the historical setting, literary design of the epistle, and theological emphases. Each chaptero lflows the logical divisions of the book, without relying on chapter and verse headings. The different divisions reflect the literary structure of each chapter, while discussion of each chapter in Romans centers around two basic sections: Commentary and Connections. Sidebars are a valuable feature of the commentary, providing additional insights on history, literary structure, definitions of technical words, notes on the history of interpretation, and other helpful information. The commentary is user-friendly with a basic bibliography,

an index of the sidebars, a Scripture index, an index of topics, and an index of modern authors. The pictures, maps, and drawings are in black and white, while the sidebars are red, which sets them off from the regular font.

Talbert follows the generally accepted view that after the expulsion of the Jewish Christians in 49 ce by the edict of Claudius the church became primarily Gentile in orientation and make-up. After those who had been expelled returned early in the reign of Nero they found a dominant Gentile Christianity in place. This new situation helped create some of the tensions within the church that Paul hoped to diffuse by writing his epistle. In the forefront of Romans, therefore, is the unity of Christian Jews and Gentiles in Rome. No discussion, however, is given in the introduction as to how the general situation of the letter connects with Paul’s proposed trip to Spain.

The author agrees that Romans displays rhetorical features. Although describing Romans as “a rhetorical act,” he is, however, cautious about forcing Romans into one or the other rhetorical approaches. It is hard, he suggests, to figure out how various sections of Romans fit into the ancient rhetorical categories, and in taking this position he finds good company with Stanley Porter and others who advise caution in trying to fit Paul’s epistles into certain species of ancient rhetoric.

Talbert follows the general consensus that Rom 1:16–17 furnishes the theme of the epistle. He, however, deviates from many commentators on Romans in his messianic interpretation of the phrase “but the righteous will live by faith.” This phrase is usually taken to be the believer in general who is made righteous by his own faith. Tied in with Talbert’s interpretation here is the translation in Rom 3:22 and 26 of pistis Christou (or related phrase) as a subjective genitive, “faith of Christ.” Although this understanding is debated by many scholars, Talbert’s analysis makes sense in that the believer’s faith is made possible by the “faith” or “faithfulness” of Christ. In line with this argument, believers participate in the faith that Jesus not only makes possible but also models in his own life.

Talbert’s discussion of baptism differs from the North American mainline Baptist interpretative tradition of which he is a part. He, much like British Baptists, connects baptism, at least in some ways, with conversion saying in Romans 6 that it is “synonymous with conversion.” Talbert understands baptism as something having a manifold effect on the Christian and not as merely a symbol of conversion or simply an act that puts one into the church without connection to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. This commentary has many obvious strengths including a helpful layout, fair treatment of most subjects, sections relating to contemporary application, and the accompanying CD-ROM. As excellent as it is, however, it has a few weaknesses. Since the commentary revolves around a discussion format rather than a verse-by-verse detailing of Romans, it is difficult to find the comments on a particular verse. A listing of the verses covered could perhaps be added to the side of the page or in a subheading at the top to make scriptural searches more user-friendly.

Another strength of the commentary is also one of its potential weaknesses. Talbert has masterfully marshaled reams of extra-biblical material and background details into his analysis. While this is very helpful and informative, I wonder if the target audience will not become lost in some of the longer discussions. Many will, howev,e arppreciate the rigor of his discussion. At several points Talbert’s work would be helped by interaction with current discussion of the Paul’s anti-imperial rhetoric such as Richard Horsley highlights in Paul and Empire (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International,1997).

Talbert’s commentary favorably compares with other recent commentaries on Romans (e.g. Thomas R. Schreiner’s) in terms of scholarly acuity and obvious knowledge of the text. Visually, however, this work far outstrips most commentaries, and the publishers are to be congratulated on a production that gives so much insightful and helpful

information but at the same time touches the eye. The mature student will appreciate the detail of this work and the attempt to make Romans relevant to the contemporary age. This is a commentary that I enthusiastically recommend for anyone interested in learning more about Romans. Overall, the goal of providing solid scholarly insights in a well-written format has been achieved.

Paul Pollard

Harding University, Searcy, AR

vrijdag 14 december 2012

JETS review van Adele Yarbro Collins - Mark - Hermeneia


JETS 52/1 (March 2009)

Mark: A Commentary. By Adela Yarbro Collins. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007, xlvi + 894 pp., $80.00.

Adela Yarbro Collins, Buckingham Professor of New Testament Criticism and Interpretation at the Yale University Divinity School, has written a notable commentary on Mark’s Gospel that is characterized by depth of thought and extensive research. The 125-page introduction covers a number of significant topics: authorship, place of writing, date, genre, Mark’s interpretation of Jesus, the Synoptic problem, the audience and purpose for Mark’s Gospel, the history of interpretation, and the text of Mark. With regard to authorship, Yarbro Collins takes seriously the title “The Gospel according to Mark” as part of the early evidence. Even if the author did not give the work a title, whoever originally copied and circulated it to other communities likely gave it one that mentioned Mark (p. 2). Yarbro Collins is open to the testimony of 1 Peter and Papias concerning an association between Peter and Mark (pp. 3–4, 101). She is also willing to accept the possibility that Paul’s letter to Philemon and the letter to the Colossians serve as witnesses to a relationship between Paul and a Christian Jew named Mark. He may be the same Mark mentioned in Acts and the same person who wrote the second Gospel (pp. 5–6). On the basis of evidence from Mark 13, Yarbro Collins regards the date for the writing of Mark to be before ad 70, although likely in the late 60s, after certain leaders in the Jewish revolt against Rome took on messianic pretensions (p. 14; cf. p. 603). Although she notes that external evidence points to Rome as the place of writing, Yarbro Collins argues that much of the internal evidence points to somewhere in one of the eastern provinces of the Roman empire. She leans toward Antioch as a possible location for the writing of Mark’s Gospel, but she recognizes that the evidence is not sufficient to make a definite decision (pp. 7–10, 101–2). Mark, no doubt, had more than one purpose in mind when he wrote his Gospel. Yarbro Collins mentions two. First, Mark intended to reassert and redefine the messiahship of Jesus in light of the presence of messianic pretenders in the Jewish war that began in ad 66. Second, Mark wanted to present the suffering of persecution as a crucial aspect of discipleship in imitation of  Christ (pp. 101–2).

Yarbro Collins’s discussion of the circumstances surrounding the writing of Mark’s Gospel stands somewhat awkwardly next to her comparison of Mark’s Gospel to the books of Moses at the beginning of her commentary. Yarbro Collins states, “Like the books of Moses, Mark is the product of a long process of tradition involving many authors and editors” (p. 1). This statement reads more like an affirmation of a basic principle behind form criticism than as a serious comparison between Mark and the books of Moses. I have my doubts that Yarbro Collins intends to communicate that the Pentateuch was written 35–40 years after the death of Moses by an associate of Joshua (cf. her summary of the Deuteronomistic history on p. 38). Yet if the Pentateuch were written under such circumstances, would it be fair to characterize it as the product of a long process of tradition involving many authors and editors? The same type of question arises when Yarbro Collins describes the relationship between Mark’s Gospel and the history of early Christian tradition (p. 94). According to this description, after Jesus’ death some of his followers experienced him as risen from the dead. Out of these experiences arose a Jewish messianic movement that grew into the early Christian church. Those who proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah shaped the traditions about him, created new stories, and updated old traditions in light of their ever-changing circumstances. Mark then apparently received these traditions after an extensive process and shaped them into a continuous story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Yet in light of Mark’s early involvement in the Christian movement and his possible association with the first leaders of that movement (not to mention Mark’s own role and skill as a writer), is it realistic to portray Mark as a passive recipient and channel of a long process of uncontrolled tradition?

Yarbro Collins’s section on the genre of Mark’s Gospel is a significant scholarly contribution (pp. 15–43). The question of genre is important, as Yarbro Collins points out, because any interpretation of Mark’s Gospel relies to some extent on an “understanding of what kind of text it is and thus what its purpose is” (p. 17). Yarbro Collins explores the basic options for the genre of Mark: Mark as a “gospel” (that is, a new and unique genre), Mark as “biography,” and Mark as “history.” Although she recognizes the insights of others who take Mark as a unique genre or as a biography, she leans decidedly in the direction of Mark as history. For Yarbro Collins, Mark is an eschatological historical monograph (pp. 18, 42–43). “The author of Mark’s Gospel has taken the model of biblical sacred history and transformed it” (p. 1). The transformation comes in part through the influence of an eschatological and apocalyptic perspective in Mark’s view of history, with its tendency toward periodization and its notion of a fixed divine plan. Another part of the transformation comes from the influence of Hellenistic historiographical and biographical traditions, including the emphasis on memorable deeds and the increasing focus on individuals, sometimes on a single person.

The main objection against viewing Mark as history has been that a work of history should be concerned with an accurate account of historical information but Mark was concerned with proclamation and his Gospel is full of miraculous events. Yarbro Collins responds by urging caution against the attempt to force modern ideals of historiography on ancient writers and readers. Ancient historical writing could include miraculous events, both direct interventions by deities in human affairs and a more implicit role for divine agency in determining the outcome of earthly events. Ancient history writing did not limit itself only to empirically verifiable data and also found it necessary to use

a certain degree of invention to fill in the gaps of the narrative. Therefore the presence of miracles should not disqualify the Gospel of Mark as a work of history (p. 41). Indeed, Yarbro Collins expresses a fair amount of scepticism in her commentary toward the historicity of Mark’s account, but that perspective does not keep her from understanding

Mark’s Gospel as a work of history.

Regarding Mark’s own attitude toward the miraculous, Yarbro Collins hesitates. According to Yarbro Collins, Mark may have believed that the mighty deeds of Jesus were actual historical events, or he may have viewed them as figurative expressions of are somehow detachable from Mark’s core message about Jesus’ role and power. Yet Mark’s Gospel is so thoroughly miraculous, from the initial statement on the fulfillment of prophecy to the final resurrection scene, that removing the miracles significantly distorts Mark’s presentation of Jesus, both with regard to his messianic role and his

Spirit-empowered life. In another place, Yarbro Collins is on more stable ground when she states that the story of Mark’s Gospel is told by “one who believes it and in order to persuade others” (p. 1).

The actual commentary on Mark’s Gospel fills up nearly 700 oversized pages. Each section of the commentary begins with a translation of the passage along with extensive text-critical notes, often followed by an explanation of the literary context of the passage and its place within the narrative unit. Yarbro Collins normally moves on to a description of the form and tradition history of the passage before working through the text verse by verse. The most distinctive contribution of the commentary is the extent to which Yarbro Collins identifies and quotes literary parallels to Mark’s text from other ancient writings. She draws on a wide range of contemporary Jewish, Greek, and Roman works in order to shed light on Mark’s Gospel. A few examples may help to convey the breadth of Yarbro Collins’s research. According to Mark 1:5, those who were baptized by John were confessing their sins. In her comments on the verse, Yarbro Collins offers an overview of material on the subject of confession, pointing out ancient Assyrian, Babylonian, Hittite, and Egyptian practices, inscriptions from Lydia and Phrygia, a quote from Menander about confession among the worshipers of Isis, inscriptions related to the cult of Aklepios, and texts from Quman (pp. 142–45). Jesus’ parable concerning the sowing of seeds (Mark 4:1–9) draws out comparisons to texts from Aristotle, 4 Ezra, Hosea, the Similitudes of Enoch, one of the Thanksgiving Hymns from Qumran, Plato, Seneca, The Law (a work attributed to Hippocrates), Diogenes Laertius in a statement concerning the Stoics, 1 Clement, Irenaeus, and the book of Colossians (pp. 242–46).

The passage concerning the rich man (Mark 10:17–31) is illustrated through references and quotations from Psalms of Solomon, 1 Enoch, the Sibylline Oracles, Philo, the Berakot tractate of the Mishnah, the Damascus Document, OT texts such as Lev 6:1–7 and Mal 3:5, Sirach, Epictetus, Diogenes Laertuis, and 4 Ezra (pp. 475–83). Not every passage in Mark calls for such extensive literary parallels, but it would be difficult to find a passage for which Yarbro Collins does not provide some quotations from ancient sources. In an isolated quotation from a modern source, even the Rolling Stones make an unexpected appearance to lend their support to Jesus’ teaching on faith (p. 535)!

Yarbro Collins does not typically argue that the collected parallels had a direct influence on Mark’s thinking or on the way in which his work was received by the original audience. More often, the collection of material serves as a general background to Mark’s Gospel, with Yarbro Collins noting similarities and differences as a way of sorting out the most likely meaning of Mark’s text. However, there are exceptions to this general observation, since at times Yarbro Collins proposes some influence from parallel ideas on either Mark or his audience. Some of the more notable of these exceptions appear in Yarbro Collins’s discussions of Jesus’ miracle of walking on the water (see esp. pp. 332– 30), Jesus’ teaching about his death as a ransom in place of the many (see esp. pp. 502, 504), the centurion’s confession of Jesus as God’s son (see esp. pp. 767–68), and, at least tentatively, Mark’s account of the resurrection and empty tomb (see esp. pp. 791–94).

Different commentaries on Mark’s Gospel have different strengths. The main strength of Yarbro Collins’s commentary is clearly in its extensive description of the general literary background to Mark’s Gospel. My initial concern with Yarbro Collins’s approach was that the noise of so many parallel voices would drown out the distinctive  message of Mark. However, Yarbro Collins manages to look carefully not only at other ancient documents but also at the text of Mark itself. In the end, my concern was replaced with an appreciation for the years of research that must have gone into this work. Yarbro Collins’s commentary will remain an important resource for studying parallels to Mark’s Gospel from ancient Jewish, Greek, and Roman literature for years to come.

Joel F. Williams

Columbia International University, Columbia, SC
 

JETS review van Luz - Matthew 1-7 - Hermeneia


JETS 51/2 (June 2008)

Matthew 1–7. By Ulrich Luz. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007, xxxviii + 432 pp., $75.00.

The translation of volume 1 of Ulrich Luz’s commentary on Matthew, based on the revised fifth edition of the German, is “in many parts . . . a new book” (p. xvii) relative to the earlier English edition (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989). In terms of interaction with secondary literature, the revision for the introduction and chapters 1–2 was completed by the summer of 2000; chapters 3–7 by 1998. More generally Luz states, “In this new edition the basic concept of the commentary has not changed, but it has become clearer. At many points I have sharpened my previous position or have clarified it; in a few cases I have corrected it [e.g. p. 50]. I have given more attention to the results of literary criticism and of sociological and reader-oriented exegeses. However, in its exegetical parts the commentary is not bound to a single methodological approach; it offers instead an attempt to integrate various methodological approaches [cf. p. 15, in response to W. Carter’s criticism of Luz’s earlier publications to the effect that Luz has failed fully to take on board narrative criticism].” The “basic position of the commentary” is summarized in a sentence: “the story of Jesus that Matthew reinterprets and actualizes is an approach to his communities in a totally concrete historical situation” (p. xvii). Seeing what he means by this is a vital ingredient in understanding the whole of his work, but space restrictions require me simply to refer back to my earlier review of his Studies in Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005) in JETS 49 (2006) 420–22.

From that historical reconstruction, it is possible to make a very direct hermeneutical move “to the history of the text’s influence (Wirkungsgeschichte),” which he understands “as consisting of all of the reflections on and receptions and actualizations of the gospel in new historical situations” (p. xvii; see pp. 60–66 and Luz’s Matthew in History [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994]). Matthew’s Gospel, as Exhibit A, itself registers just one in a continuous history of such receptions and actualizations of Jesus’ history. Further, in our own readings of Matthew we must recall (Luz points out) that we are never stationary and objective observers of an historical stream as it moves by but are “rather like people who have to examine the water of a stream while they are sitting in a boat that is carried along by that very stream” (p. 63). Moreover, “a living relationship to the ‘substance’ of the texts is essential for the modern understanding of all fundamental human texts” (p. 61 n. 313). Thus, tracing the Wirkungsgeschichte of Matthew is not merely an addendum to exegesis but an essential aspect of it (p. 65). Where historicalcritical interpretation has failed in part of its task, “the history of the text’s influence can help and can make clear to the interpreters (1) who they are in their confrontation with the texts, and (2) who they might become in their confrontation with them” (p. 63). Indeed, Luz states that he has “written this commentary primarily for priests, pastors and teachers of religion” (p. xv).

Even a commentary of this length that undertakes to incorporate a biblical text’s 2000-year history of influence will of necessity be selective (among other things, Luz remains within the orbit of “interpretations that influenced the Catholic and Protestant churches as confessions” and “sources concentrated on European history”). A goal, which partially warrants the effort, is to “lead the biblical texts into the present.” This is not done by Luz in the form of theses or directives; “instead I try to speak of the direction in which the texts point for today in order, on the one hand, to sketch the space and the direction in which the texts might direct us today, but, on the other hand, to leave the users of this commentary the space they need to seek with the texts their own avenue of understanding” (p. 65). Likewise, at various points in the course of the commentary, Luz emphasizes the way the author of Matthew himself moves his received tradition in a particular direction and the “openness of the texts” themselves, prohibiting restrictive and exclusive interpretations (e.g. pp. 190, 197, 248, 373).

There are, however, hermeneutical limits, so that we may speak of “successful and unsuccessful realizations of biblical texts” (p. 65). Elsewhere (Studies 265–89) he proposes as criteria for truth in interpretation a “correspondence criterion” (correspondence to the history of Jesus); a “pragmatic criterion” (does it bring about love?); and a “consensus criterion” (recognizing that interpretation is not a private task but the task for the church). The author of Matthew is himself not above being subjected to these criteria (e.g. Matthew’s anti-Judaism in Matthew in History 33–34; but see also Studies 257–61).

After a 66-page introduction, the commentary on Matthew 1–7 fills another 331 pages. There are six excursuses (Fulfillment Quotations; Righteousness; Son of God; Disciple; Preaching, Teaching, and Gospel in Matthew; False Prophets). The volume closes with indices for primary sources; Greek words (highly selective); subjects (brief and selective); and authors.

Treatments of units of text begin with bibliography and a translation of the passage. Following this is “analysis,” comprising varying selections from a menu of sub-sections (e.g. structure and form, redaction, fulfillment quotations, historicity, origin). Those with weak stomachs for rather fine analyses (dicing down individual words into layers of tradition, etc.) will appreciate Luz’s occasional refusal to speculate. More often, however, they will grow queasy (e.g. pp. 261–62, 375–76). Nevertheless, it is readily apparent that and how all these aspects of analysis have their role in the historical-literaryhermeneutical thesis (singular) of the commentary; the level of integration is one of the most impressive aspects of Luz’s work as a whole. Given the desire to include the Wirkungsgeschichte of Matthew as well as sections on the meaning of Matthew for today (and given that his intended readership is primarily “priests, pastors and teachers of religion”), Luz is and had to be fairly concise in all these analytical sections. Some may wish for more discussion, but normally there is at least some indication of the reasoning behind his judgments.

The commentary proper (“interpretation”) likewise employs a fluid outlining procedure. He sometimes intersperses the history of interpretation/influence with his exposition, sometimes reserves it for the end; at times he divides the exposition into its distinct interpretations at the levels of Jesus/Community/Q/Matthew (thus outlining these stages in the on-going Wirkungsgeschichte of the basic history of Jesus), sometimes just Jesus and Matthew or just Matthew; etc. For all that it flows well and is quite readable. Setting aside agreement and disagreement, Luz’s views are thoroughly informed, sensible (given his working theories), and well defended (or transparently defensible, given that this is not a commentary for beginners).

My own decision to give a broader review of this volume leaves no space for interactions with Luz’s specific arguments and conclusions; for a little more of that I refer again to my earlier review. Here I simply highlight a few observations and criticisms.

It is understandable but unfortunate that this volume was not able to include chapters 9–11, given Luz’s outline of Matthew. It is Luz’s judgment that our Matthew was known to 1 Peter (e.g. pp. 59, 204). The running treatments of grace and law in Matthew and in relation to Paul are excellent. On occasion one is startled by the assertion that a text in Matthew is in substance simply not Matthean (e.g. p. 256 on 5:32b). In commenting on 7:6, he writes, “I am going to permit myself not to interpret the logion in its Matthean context. Matthew was a conservative author; out of faithfulness to his tradition he included the saying simply because it appeared in his copy of Q. . . . My advice is radical: one should not use it as a biblical word [given its history of influence]” (p. 356). Obviously this is fair play in the historical-critical game, but, for all that, seemingly an admission of failure of imagination and a kind of lack of charity due Matthew,

rather than boldness. Lastly, it is not finally clear how Luz’s own general hermeneutic underwrites his confidence in determining a kind of timeless understanding of the original meaning of strata of traditions. Yet this is what he seems to believe historical criticism does (e.g. pp. 61, 63, 190, 197, 373). It gives us a reference point by which all later readings can be measured, not in terms of truth (which is “always situational”; p. 269) but at least in terms of plotting the Wirkungsgeschichte. Again, the point of this observation is simply with reference to Luz’s own hermeneutical approach. Why should the results of historical criticism not be viewed as, for the most part, a breathing of our own culture through its own methodological construct (itself a product of our time), simply another movement in the inexorable stream that is taking us all for a boat ride? Why or how is historical criticism able to get to shore and watch the stream from there? I am not saying there are no answers, but it is not clear from what Luz writes what his answers are. One wonders if there are ways of answering these questions that would require some reworking of Luz’s whole approach.

The “history of interpretation” and “meaning for today” sections are worth the (high) price of the book. Good examples abound; almost at random I cite pp. 266–69, 291–94, 348, 395–99. One disturbing lesson that plays out repeatedly before our eyes is the domestication of the Sermon through time. The praise of these sections is not intended to diminish the significance of Luz’s verse-by-verse commentary, which is consistently insightful, provocative, persuasive, morally bracing (e.g. p. 286), and sometimes humorous. As a pure historical-critical study, Luz’s work ranks with that of Davies and Allison (ICC). Yet it is in the fruit of his Wirkungsgeschichte investigations and in his own attempt to understand Matthew (“a responsible and binding new stating of what has concerned the author of the text”; p. 64, citing Barth) that his work stands apart. Certainly, Luz’s conclusions on the meaning of Matthew for today proceed along the lines of his own assumptions, with which many will disagree. Obviously, some conclusions do not require these particular arguments. Yet as I stressed in the earlier review of Studies, it is in fact a strength of Luz’s work that there is such a strong organic relation between his theological conclusions and his historical-literary theories, and that is a two-edged sword. Regardless, his reviews of the history of influence and his own struggles with what Matthew means in our context are clearly grounded in a deep pastoral concern for the modern (European, Protestant-Catholic) world and an equally deep desire for faithfulness to the Sermon as he understands it. In whatever ways Luz’s own theological (e.g. Jesus was wrong about the way in which the kingdom would come; pp. 239, 280, 360; note p. 393) and cosmological (e.g. p. 241) assumptions may vitiate his reading, his sympathetic listening to the history of influence has everywhere shaped his ultimate understanding.

Returning to Luz’s concern for the usefulness of his commentary to priests, pastors and teachers of religion, I can only say that I have used his work heavily myself in teaching Matthew and have recommended it strongly to my pastors.

Jon C. Laansma
Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

woensdag 12 december 2012

Review door L.T. Johnson van Jewett - Romans - Hermeneia


Book Review

Romans: A Commentary. By Robert Jewett. (Fortress), 1,250 pp.

Those paying the $90 price for this commentary in the distinguished Hermenia series can scarcely complain that the book was lightly tossed off. It includes 70 pages of front matter (such as bibliography), 125 pages of back matter (indices and the like) and over 1,000 pages of commentary--actually, given the double-column format, 2,000 pages. Because I will shortly offer some criticisms of Robert Jewett’s effort, I want to begin by acknowledging what is good and important in a work that culminates a long career devoted to the study of Paul.

First, the publishers deserve universal applause for their commitment to a commentary series that upholds the highest standards of critical scholarship in an age when the risks involved in such a commitment are painfully obvious. We might bemoan the overly indulgent editorial oversight that allows commentaries to grow so unwieldy, but it is remarkable to find a religious publishing house willing to give scholarship room to expand.

Second, Jewett has applied himself diligently to all the unromantic details that make critical scholarship grueling. He shows the full evidence and argument for the Greek text he establishes, and provides an original translation. He acknowledges and often vigorously engages scholarly positions on both sides of disputed issues. He offers some elements of patristic interpretation. He presents a substantial amount of original research on early Roman Christianity. He uses rhetorical analysis in reasonable fashion (although this sometimes sits uneasily with his form-critical instincts). Most remarkable in a book this large, he posits a strong thesis that he sustains with impressive clarity throughout. For those seeking up-to-date scholarship on all these points, Jewett is an important resource.

Jewett’s commentary appears 89 years after Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans challenged the adequacy of the historical-critical approach to the New Testament then employed in Germany. For Barth, the grammarians and historians could explain the text, but unless they engaged the theological issues that Paul addressed they could not be said to interpret Romans. The issues in the letter are inescapably theological, because they involve the human condition before God: the rebellion of sin, the deception of law, the grace of God, the death and resurrection of Jesus, the obedience of faith. Barth’s slender first edition generated controversy and a renewal of Protestant theology. Biblical critics, however, mostly declined his challenge.

Jewett’s massive volume will certainly be consulted (not necessarily read in its entirety) by members of the New Testament professional guild. His book will receive respectful but limited attention. This is not simply because its daunting length and complexity resist entry by ordinary readers, but because Jewett’s relentless application of current preoccupations flattens one of the world’s most powerful religious writings to the level of the banal and reveals how little theological passion and insight are to be found among contemporary New Testament interpreters.

Over the past several decades the theological assumptions taken for granted by Barth--designated by some as the "Lutheran perspective" on Romans--have been dismantled. Krister Stendahl’s 1963 article "The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West" (in his Paul Among Jews and Gentiles) charged that readings of Paul based on Augustine and Luther are theological projections; Paul himself was much more concerned with Jew-gentile relations than he was with the relation of faith and works. The point of Romans is reached not in chapters 7-8 but in chapters 9-11, where Paul works out the dialectical relation of Jew and gentile in God’s plan.

E. P. Sanders’s seminal work Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977) weakened the traditional perspective further by demonstrating that Paul was not a critic of the law but rather, like his fellow Jews, operated religiously within the framework of "covenantal nomism." Paul was not inventing a new "religion of grace," for all Jews lived within grace; the difference between Paul and his compatriots was that he accepted Jesus as God’s gift and they did not.

Stanley Stowers pushed for a further rethinking of Paul’s purposes in A Rereading of Romans: Justice, Jews and Gentiles (1994). Stowers brought the benefit of rhetorical analysis to his argument that Paul’s goal was not theological but moral: the real telos of Romans is reached in chapters 12-14, where Paul exhorts his readers.

This more "horizontal" reading of Romans--and of all of Paul’s letters--has been embraced and widely disseminated by N. T. Wright (Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology, 1992), who emphasizes that Paul is not otherworldly but this-worldly, is focused on social healing more than individual salvation, and is more concerned with political resistance than personal holiness.

The new perspective has not met with universal approval. In Perspectives Old and New on Paul." The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics (2003) Stephen Westerholm provides an extensive and fair-minded review of current scholarly positions as well as a helpful history of Pauline interpretation in which, inevitably, Romans takes center stage. Some contemporary readers emphasize the soteriological perspective, some the ecclesiological. But at least this debate takes place within a framework that can be called theological.

Insofar as he reveals any theological interest, Jewett can be placed squarely within the horizontal school. As he sees it, Paul’s concern is not with the individual but with the social group, not with faith/works but with Jew/gentile.

The deficiency in Jewett’s commentary is connected mainly, however, to his enthusiastic embrace of another stream of scholarship, one that derives not from an interest in Paul’s theological argument as such but from a confidence in the ability of historical-criticism to explain every aspect of the letter in such fashion that it not only is intelligible within its first context (something everyone acknowledges is important), but is restricted in its significance only to that first context.

The premise here is that if Paul was not writing a theological tract for the ages--and everyone agrees he had no intention of doing that--then Romans must be understood within the circumstances of Paul’s ministry, as generated, as were his other occasional letters, by a situation in his own ministry or in a church that called out for his apostolic attention. Historical critics typically gather all evidence from within a letter that might point to a specific rhetorical situation; then, with the help of other information--when available--reconstruct the situation Paul addresses; and, finally, read the details of the letter as they fit within that reconstruction. Some degree of circularity is inevitable even in the best examples of this method, but the circularity becomes vicious when exegetes distort the textual evidence of the composition by making it serve only their own reconstruction.

Romans has proven to be remarkably resistant to being treated just like all other Pauline letters. Karl Donfried’s The Romans Debate (2nd enlarged edition, 1991) contains essays that offer several not entirely reconcilable reconstructions and purposes for this powerful composition. A helpful review of the interpretive options is available also in A. J. M. Wedderburn’s The Reasons for Romans (1988).

The problem is this: Paul is quite clear about his own circumstances and why he is writing to the Roman church. As Jewett notes, the personal notices in chapters 1,15 and 16 indicate that Paul is at a turning point in his ministry. As he sets out to deliver the collection to the church in Jerusalem, he seeks the financial assistance of the Roman Christians for his planned mission to Spain.

But if Romans is basically a fund-raising letter, how do we account for the contents of chapters 1-14? The simplest suggestion is that Paul shared with the Romans the missionary theology that he had worked out in light of the Galatian and Corinthian controversies--and his efforts for the collection--so that the Roman Christians would gladly support the "good news" of an apostle whom they had not yet met face-to-face. But this suggestion is insufficiently situational for many critics. For them, reading Romans like other letters means reading it as instruction or correction of the Roman readers.

In letters like 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians, Paul does identify and address problems among his readers. But in Romans he is remarkably circumspect. His discussion of the diversity of practice among the "weak" and "strong" in chapter 14 is vague, and he suggests that his readers are capable of instructing themselves. Nevertheless, many contemporary critics (including Jewett) insist that everything in the letter must be directed by Paul to the historical circumstances of his first readers: everything in chapters 1-13 should be understood in terms of the community differences described briefly in chapter 14: the strong are contemptuous of the weak because of their observance of dietary and Sabbath rules, while the weak are judgmental of the strong for their failure to observe the same.

The most obvious way to do this is by reading the weak as Jewish believers and the strong as gentiles. Once this is done, chapters 1-13 seem to be filled with encoded references to the Roman disputants, and the way is open to a more detailed reconstruction of the specific situation among Paul’s readers that he is assumed to be addressing.

Such reconstruction is necessarily speculative, because hard evidence is lacking. Scholars can therefore come up with quite distinct scenarios. In a book that appeared at the same time as Jewett’s commentary, Solving the Romans Debate (2007), A. Andrew Das argues that the Roman readership was entirely gentile (all evidence to the contrary is explained away) and that those who are represented by "Jews" in the encoded text are actually gentiles who had been god-fearers and were attracted to Jewish observance. Das is responding to the argument of Mark Nanos, in The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letter (1996), that some gentile believers continued to meet in the context of synagogues.***

Each solution requires stretching and twisting the evidence to fit the theory being offered. Equally important, the effort expended to develop each historical scenario draws attention even further from the religious argument that Paul is making. The meaning of what he says tends to be reduced to the identity of those to whom he says it.

Jewett’s reconstruction is even more comprehensive. Indeed, historically speaking, he wants it all. He wants Paul’s letter to be ambassadorial (designed to gain financial support), but he also sees it as a means of correcting the Roman congregations. The plural is important: Jewett envisions not a single church but multiple ones, some Jewish, some gentile, some perhaps mixed. From Paul’s greetings in chapter 16, furthermore, Jewett proposes to distinguish churches that meet in households from those that meet in tenements, and he is prepared to offer possibilities for the geographical location of these small communities and to suggest that the diverse social settings also entailed different notions of ecclesial structure and practice. "Jew/gentile" is far too simple a disjunction for Jewett: he sees Paul addressing the full complexity of Roman Christianity.

Jewett adds two more elements that are even more speculative. First, he reads Paul’s statement in 1:14 that he is obliged to Greek and barbarian as a reference to the Spaniards whom Paul hopes to evangelize: they do not share in the Hellenistic and Jewish cultures that Paul has heretofore been able to assume. The payoff here is that Paul particularly needs Roman connections in this venture, since he will lack others.

Second, Jewett adopts whole-cloth the latest fad in New Testament scholarship, which broadly terms itself as postcolonial, and reads virtually everything in the New Testament as a coded critique of the Roman Empire and especially of its claims of cultural superiority elaborated in the civic cult of the early empire.

The issue in Romans, in Jewett’s reading, is not humanity’s alienation from God because of sin and the ways in which sin is revealed through boasting over others and in which the law becomes implicated through the deep urges of the flesh. The issue, rather, is the cultural hegemony that arises from living within an empire that rejects barbarians as alien and boasts of Roman cultural superiority. This problem is to be addressed by the diverse Roman congregations as they eschew mutual boasting and practice mutual acceptance. Thus they will be persuasive purveyors of the good news ("to overcome cultural barriers and conflicts") to barbarians in Spain.

Full credit to Jewett for keeping so many balls in motion. But it must be said that, even at the level of historical analysis, he relies almost entirely on assertion rather than demonstration. We cannot know that some of Paul’s readers met in tenements rather than house churches, much less that they had different ideas about leadership. Jewett cannot know that some of those with slave names in chapter 16 worked within the imperial bureaucracy and therefore could provide Paul with administrative help with his Spanish mission. Least convincing is Jewett’s thesis that Paul’s rhetoric has Roman imperialism as its target, especially in light of 13:1-7. It is, in fact, a thesis that has virtually no real support in the text, with the result that its constant reassertion becomes intrusive.

Is it really likely that when the Romans heard Paul’s words about creation being "subjected to futility" in 8:20 they "could well have thought about how imperial ambitions, military conflicts, and economic exploitation had led to the erosion of the natural environment throughout the Mediterranean world, leaving ruined cities, depleted fields, deforested mountains, and polluted streams as evidence of this universal human vanity"? It seems that theology is not the only "ideology" that can anachronistically be imposed on Paul’s text with a "hegemonistic agenda."

To concede that Romans is not systematic theology does not in the least imply that Romans is not profoundly theological from beginning to end; the interpretive task is not to eliminate the theological register of the composition, but to engage it appropriately. Jewett is absolutely correct to emphasize Paul’s concern for Jew-gentile reconciliation and his appeal to Roman congregations to adopt attitudes of mutual acceptance. But he fails to show how this horizontal dimension does not exclude but rather depends on Paul’s sense of the vertical dimension--how God’s intervention in Christ has created the possibility for a new way of being human.

The sheer number of philological details, scholarly debates and historical speculations threatens to make the interpreter (and the reader) lose the true power of Paul’s argument. Paul’s argument works within a grand narrative (or drama) involving God and humans. It is distressingly banal to reduce Paul’s language about sin and grace, about disobedience and love, to the level of cultural attitudes (toward, for example, "imperial ideology"), though such a reduction often passes itself off as theology in some seminary classrooms today. Paul is getting at something deeper than the play of cultural distortions. He is working at the level of the disease of every human heart that continues, no matter what adjustments are made in cultural arrangements, to pursue destructive behavior. And Paul is making claims about "all flesh" and "every person" and about the "power of the gospel to save" that go beyond the specific cultural conditions of Jews and gentiles in the first century--his language demands to be engaged with at the anthropological/theological level.

Some of the difficulty in finding this aspect of Romans in Jewett’s commentary undoubtedly is due to his desire to be compendious and his dedication to his own horizontal, culturally defined reading. Some of his exegetical decisions, however, suggest that at some level he does not fully appreciate the powerful religious drama that underlies Paul’s argument. Paul’s readers are invited to choose whether they are to continue living according to the story of Adam (with dispositions of disobedience and mutual hostility) or the story of Jesus (with dispositions of faithful obedience and mutual acceptance). Paul urges them to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ."

Because Jewett rejects (without appearing fully to understand) the important recent work done on "the faith of Jesus Christ" in Paul’s letters, above all in Romans 3:21-26, he is not able fully to connect God’s saving work disclosed through Jesus’ obedient faith and the lives of obedient faith that he seeks to cultivate among his readers. In short, the central theme of faith in Romans is removed from its powerful role as the essential human response to God, one with profound anthropological implications, and reduced to something far more formal (like commitment to Christian belief). Failing to grasp how Paul has made Jesus’ human response to God part of God’s essential gift to humans means failing to grasp how dispositions of mutual acceptance articulate the form of life possible only because of that powerful and transforming gift. That it is possible to read Romans from the perspective of such a strong Christology without losing in the least the horizontal dimension (of relations between Jews and gentiles) is shown by A. Katherine Grieb’s The Story of Romans: A Narrative Defense of God’s Righteousness (2002).

Robert Jewett’s commentary is a monument to contemporary historical-critical biblical scholarship. It simultaneously informs readers of many things they did not know--and perhaps do not really need to know--and inhibits an engagement with what readers have not yet heard--and definitely need to hear.

Luke Timothy Johnson

Luke Timothy Johnson teaches New Testament at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta.