In your opinion, if you had to choose one introductory book for the study of the New Testament, which book would you choose? When I was in seminary (an evangelical one) we used D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament. Many people I know would say that Raymond E. Brown’s An Introduction to the New Testament remains the best. Others might suggest Bart D. Ehrman’s The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Tell me your preference (or favorite few if you have more than one).
This is a list of book reviews found across the Internet from March-April, 2013, that may be of interest:
E. Adams, Parallel Lives of Jesus [Reviewed by A. Winn]
A.W. Bateman, D.L. Bock, and G.H. Johnston, Jesus the Messiah [Reviewed by J. Gardner]
M. Bird, et al., Four Views on the Apostle Paul [A.J. Dewey]
M.A. De La Torre, Genesis [Reviewed by J.E. Anderson]
W. G. Dever, The Lives of Ordinary People in Ancient Israel [Reviewed by D. Edelman and A. M. Maeir]
D. Harink, Paul, Philosophy, and the Theopolitical Vision [Reviewed by T. Engberg-Pedersen]
F.J. Moloney, The Gospel of Mark [Reviewed by T. Gombis]
G. Yamaski, Perspective Criticism [Review by R.C. Tannehill]
Scot McKnight and Joseph B. Modica, Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies (Downers Grove, IVP Academic), 2013. (Amazon.com)
When I saw this book previewed in the IVP catalog a while ago I made sure to ask Adrianna Wright to include me as a reviewer. She did and I received a copy a few weeks ago. This book addresses a topic that interest me. Empire in the New Testament is a field of inquiry that has become increasingly attractive in recent years. Personally, I began to read books like Brian J. Walsh’s and Sylvia C. Keesmaat’s Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire; Richard J. Horsely’s Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder; and John Dominic Crossan’s and Jonathan L. Reed’s In Search of Paul: How Jesus’ Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom around 2005. It was at a time when I had graduated college quite discouraged by a Christianity that was consumed with either living right to go to heaven or living wickedly to go to hell. Also, I was disillusioned by the rhetoric coming from many Christians during their effort to re-elect President George W. Bush. Finally, I found literature that introduced me to a reading of Scripture that addressed earthy matters, including corrupt world governments and their rulers, which was my impression of the Bush Administration in my early twenties.
Then I kept studying and I realized that the New Testament may be more nuanced that I imagined. The first book to challenge my thinking on this topic was written by Seyoon Kim, Christ and Caesar: The Gospel and the Roman Empire in the Writings of Paul and Luke, which helped me realize that there may be a third option. It may be that early Christianity was neither accommodating to Rome nor anarchist. Instead, it could be that there is far more nuance and complexity. Since then I have come to appreciate something C. Kavin Rowe suggested in his book World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age, namely, early Christianity offered an alternative culture, but it wasn’t seditious, necessarily. Sometimes we find stronger anti-imperial language, especially in the Apocalypse, and sometimes we find language that seems a bit more grateful for Rome.
This book edited by Scot McKnight and Joseph B. Modica is filled with essays by writers who understand this. This book is not an attack on Empire studies. In fact, the editors and authors are very appreciative of those who have helped us better understand the text by studying how it relates to the Roman Empire within which these texts were written. That said, there may have been a pendulum swing that went a tad too far the other direction which this book aims to correct, arguing for a healthy, cautious middle.
Message of the Book
The message is simple. As the editors put it, “This book is an attempt to strike a balance between a postcolonial reading of the New Testament and one that recognizing the contributions of that reading, yet posits a very different view of the ‘kingdom of God (p. 212).’” In other words, “…the New Testament writers affirm that Jesus is Lord, not with the sole intent of debunking Caesar and his empire, but to offer a stark contrast between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan.” Now, the Roman Empire may behave in ways that is aligned with the kingdom of Satan, but that doesn’t mean there is a one-for-one correspondance. Rome could do some things well for a temporal, human government.
Summary of the Contents
Andy Crouch begins the book with a Forward that is the written equivalent to an exciting movie trailer. He observes, “We will always have empire (p. 8).” This is true “as long as we have complex human societies (p. 9).” Empires are the result of humans attempting to live as image bearers. We create things and we govern, but Crouch reminds us, “Empires always end (p. 9).” He says that the biblical writers are “surprisingly ambivalent” about the rising and falling of empires (p. 10), noting that even Cyrus can be called “Messiah,” as in Is. 45:1 (p. 11). This is because, “Not all empires are alike (p. 11).” Therefore, “…the question is not really whether we will have empires (we will) or whether they will endure (they will not), but what kind of empires will we have in this time between times (p. 12).”
Then he says the following which captures the point of this boom quite well:
“…to say ‘Jesus is Lord’ does not seem actually to entail saying ‘Caesar is not [Lord].’ Rather, it entails not saying ‘Caesar is Lord.’ This minute grammatical distinction, simply a matter of where the negation is placed, seems to me to explain so much about the New Testament witnesses. The affirmation ‘Jesus is Lord’ requires not so much a strident denunciation of earthly lords as a studied silence concerning their pretensions. The answer to Caesar’s inflated claims of significance is further proclamation of Jesus the Messiah’s real significance (p. 13).”
Jesus is Lord, but that doesn’t mean Caesar isn’t lord, even if temporarily. Caesar may be lord, but he is responsible to the Lord. In the meantime, Christians are to proclaim Jesus, the true Lord of lords, and if this results in persecution so be it. If it doesn’t and if like Paul we gain audiences among governing authorities, then we must proclaim Jesus to them as well, and let the Lord be the judge of all lords.
In the Introduction McKnight and Modica say a few things about empire studies as they relate to New Testament studies before outlining what the reader should expect from this book.
Chapter 1: We Have No King But Caesar: Roman Imperial Ideology and the Imperial Cult is written by David Nystrom, an expert on the Roman Empire. He explains how Rome came to power and the ideologies that supported their self-understanding, including the belief that their empire was ordained by the gods. This chapter is extremely helpful because it prevents us from importing back into history our understanding of Roman practices. Nystrom explains things such as patronage, whether worship directly implied divinity, and so forth.
Chapter 2: Anti-Imperial Rhetoric in the New Testament by Judith A Diehl is partly a survey of modern scholarship on how early Christians related to Rome and partially a presentati0n of how we may think about. For those lacking familiarity with the field this won’t catch you up completely, but it will give you a basic idea of what is being said and who the “movers and shakers” have been.
Chapter 3: Matthew by Joel Wilitts is the first chapter that directly addresses a section of the New Testament. Willits spends most of this chapter interacting with the work of Warren Carter. Rather that reading Matthew as anti-imperial Willits writes, “I don’t think Matthew is anti-imperial at all. Matthew’s problem with empire, if one can even put it that way, was not empire, but which empire (p. 85).” In other words, Matthew advocates the Davidic King and Israel’s empire. Matthew does address Rome, but it is not the primary message of the Gospel. Instead,
“Matthew was neither critiquing ‘empire’ per se nor singling out Rome uniquely. To take this view would be to inappropriately diminish Matthew’s message. Jesus is not only or primarily God’s answer to Rome. Jesus is God’s answer to Israel’s unfulfilled story (p. 97).”
Chapter 4: The Gospel of Luke and the Roman Empire is a fascinating juxtaposition between Luke and Josephus. He compares and contrast their approach to Rome and how their message may have been understood. It is proposed that Josephus was “snarling sweetly” in his writings, not directly opposing Rome, but saying things that defended his people and that were partially critical of Rome all the while writing for his Flavian audience. Similarly, Luke isn’t hiding anything. He isn’t against Rome, but he isn’t ignorant of Rome’s shortcoming either.
Chapter 5: John’s Gospel and the Roman Imperial Context by Christopher W. Skinner attempt to fill a gap in the field. The nature of the Fourth Gospel has led many to neglect it when studying empire. Skinner corrects this addressing a variety of objections to finding empire on John. Then he interacts with the works of Tom Thatcher, Warren Carter, and Lance Byron Richey discussing topics like “negative Christology” (i.e., Johannine Christology is mostly intended to rebuff imperial claims) and “the rhetoric of distance” (i.e., Johannine dualism as relates to the Gospel and Rome). Skinner expresses gratitude for those who have helped us see that the Fourth Gospel does say something about Rome, but he concludes that “…the Fourth Gospel is largely concerned with the incarnate Logos who has come down from above (p. 128).”
Chapter 6: Proclaiming Another King Named Jesus? The Acts of the Apostles and the Roman Imperial Cult(s) by Drew J. Strait contributes to the discussion of Acts’ relationship to Rome (which unlike John’s has been addressed by many over the years). Strait engages several dialogue partners providing helpful caveats and clarifications, one of the most insightful being the reminder that there is not one official imperial cult, but that the imperial cult had many forms. Also, his discussion of apotheosis and the ascension is very informative.
Chapter 7: “One Who Will Arise to Rule the Nations”: Paul’s Letter to the Romans and the Roman Empire by Michael Bird addresses one of the most complex documents in the New Testament. One where we may find the most anti-imperial rhetoric mixed with the most caution toward Rome. Bird provides background information on Paul and Rome as well as how this has been discussed in recent scholarship. Then he moves through some of the more complex passages such as 1:1-4; 1:16-17; 13:1-7; and 15:5-13. While Bird’s essay seems the most welcoming to modern trends he does note, “Romans is not a political manifesto. It is pastoral theology, albeit one not divorced from the sociopolitical realities of the Roman Mediterranean (p. 161).”
Chapter 8: Philippians and Empire: Paul’s Engagement with Imperialism and the Imperial Cult by Lynn H. Cohick is a very informative study on Philippi and how Paul’s letter would have been understood there. She provides a background of the imperial cult that clarifies a lot, noting that while the imperial cult did include the living Caesar it would have included Julius Caesar, Augustus, Augustus’ wife Livia, and Claudius. In other words, it isn’t “Jesus v. Caesar” per se. The imperial cult is familial, including even a female member (pp. 169-170). Like Bird’s essay Cohick choses to discuss a few select areas: 1:27; 2:5-11; and 3:20-21, evaluating what has been said about these passages and whether the anti-imperial reading makes the most sense historically. Cohick counters with an “eschatological, anti-pagan” reading.
Chapter 9: Colossians and the Rhetoric of Empire by Allan R. Bevere is a two part chapter. The first deals with the aforementioned book Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire by Walsh and Keesmaat and the second part discusses Philemon. As much as I enjoyed Colossians Remixed I think this chapter is a strong critique of the book and Bevere provides what seems to me to be a more historical sound reading of the text and the problem addressed by the author (who he suggest is Timothy with Paul’s approval). Bevere is slow to embrace the idea that Paul was requesting Onesimus be released by Philemon in that epistle, noting that the relationship has changed, but that it isn’t obvious to him that Paul is requiring Onesimus be made a free man.
Chapter 10: Something Old, Something New: Revelation and Empire by Dwight D. Sheets revisits what may be the most discussed text in the field. Revelation is presented as the most anti-imperial document of the New Testament. Sheets revisits how we understand the author’s beliefs about Jesus’ return and the nature of apocalyptic discourse. He provides a thoughtful reconsideration of Domitian, which I found to be the most insightful part of the chapter (see pp. 202-205).Through this lens of the imminent return of Christ accompanied by the warning against cultural assimilation Sheets argues that these factors may have been far more influential than merely some theory of anti-empire.
If I were to critique this book in any way it would be this: each chapter needs to be its own book. For those who are attracted to the writings of Carter, Crossan, Horsley, and others this book may bother you because it has to provide a brief rebuttal. This may seem insufficient when we consider how much work these aforementioned authors have put into their anti-imperial readings. That said, if the reader is able to take these brief proposals and then revisit anti-imperial readings with them in mind I think a more fruitful, nuanced vision of how early Christians related to Rome will emerge. Empire studies have benefitted New Testament studies. There is no doubt about that. Yet we need to make sure to avoid a pendulum swing, The New Testament may not be about the “sweet by and by,” but neither is it about revolt or being so anti-Roman that the authors hoped to see Rome collapse some way other than when Christ returns, when all empires will collapse, not just Rome. I highly recommend this book for those who are new to the field or those who have been studying in it a while now.
I received Warren Carter’s new book Seven Events that Shaped the New Testament World for review from Baker Academic under the impression that this book was about events that shaped the world behind the New Testament, i.e. the cultural matrix of the narrative we find in the New Testament. This is true, in part, but it may have been titled Seven Things that Shaped the New Testament Canon or Seven Things That Shaped Early Christianity (my preferred title) because the seven “events” are not all events and the thing being shaped may be early Christianity, not the world of early Christianity or the canon of the New Testament. That said, the book remains a fine, short introduction to seven things that did influence the emergence of Christianity.
Message of the Book
Carter provides readers with “…an orientation to some important aspects of the early Jesus movement and the New Testament.” (KL*, 60) He writes, “I take each event as a focal point for larger cultural dynamics and sociohistorical realities that were in some way significant for followers of Jesus and the New Testament.” (KL, 65) This book explores the cultural forces that shaped Christianity. Some things made Christians resistant. Some things were accommodated. Carter notes,
“…followers of Jesus followed one who had been crucified by Rome and its allies. But there was also plenty of cultural imitation and accommodation. Christians drew resources such as language and ideas and social structures from each of these cultural streams. They wrote in Greek. They read Jewish Scriptures. They followed Jesus as members of his kingdom or empire, which they saw as eventually ruling over everything. They accommodated, they contested, they competed, they survived.” (KL, 119)
This book unpacks the forces that shaped the movement.
Summary of the Contents
After the Introduction the book is divided into seven chapters, each introducing those “events” or things that shaped early Christianity. Chapter 1: The Death of Alexander the Great revisits the man Alexander and his conquest. Alexander created an empire that Hellenized most of the known world at that time. This brought Greek culture, customs, and most importantly language to groups of people who were otherwise separate. The empire after Alexander’s death was a vacuum for leadership and Judea was caught in the midst of it. This would come to influence Judaism, later Christianity, and even how Rome would handle the territory when it emerged as the next empire.
Chapter 2: The Process of Translating the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek discusses the evolution of the Septuagint (LXX). The LXX was produced because the world was Hellenized. Jewish holy writings in the Greek language would allow early Christianity to communicate Israel’s narrative to the pagan world.
Chapter 3: The Rededication of the Jerusalem Temple unpacks the uprising against Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the rise of Judas Maccabeus and his family, and how this brief time of Jewish independence would shape the people before Rome’s invasion. This may have been my favorite chapter. Carter juxtaposes the messages of 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, and the Book of Daniel, asking how they present warfare, martyrdom, and divine sovereignty over the nations. This chapter does a very good job at presenting the diverse responses to the pagans found among the Jewish people.
Chapter 4: The Roman Occupation of Judea is similar to the first chapter: a pagan force overtakes Judea and this will shape the world into which Jesus was born and the world in which the early Jesus movement would emerge. Carter makes a list of winner and losers, Rome being the biggest winners, of course! Rome’s occupations drove the Jewish people to dream of independence again. This prepared the way for various forms of messianism. The chapter ends with an interesting survey of how various NT documents presented the role of Rome in the world (e.g., Romans, 2 Peter, Revelation).
Chapter 5: The Crucifixion of Jesus is a chapter that discusses crucifixion in general, who was crucified, what would lead to crucifixion, and why Jesus was crucified. This may be the most important question a historical Jesus scholar must answer: What did Jesus do to die a death like crucifixion? If this question is not answered sufficiently then a historical reconstruction of Jesus must be suspect. Jesus’ political aims and message receive attention in this chapter in their historical context as does how early Christians interpreted Jesus’ death.
Chapter 6: The Writing of the New Testament Texts is not an “event,” but a series of tiny events. The chapter begins with the Pauline corpus. Carter divides the corpus into Pauline, Deutero-Pauline, and Trito-Pauline epistles discussing his reasons for accepting and denying Pauline authorship. The content of these letters is surveyed as are the Catholic Epistles and the Gospels.
Chapter 7: The Process of “Closing” the New Testament is not an event either. Rather, it is an evolution, a process. Carter examines the canon was in flux until the local Council of Carthage in 375 and even after the council. He outlines the evolution of the canon in several stages including writing, use (in corporate worship), collections (such as the fourfold Gospel or the Pauline corpus), early lists and selections, the approach to ratification, and the criteria used. Some readers may be surprised to find that there New Testament was instable for most of the first few centuries. Some books that made the canon were ignored for a long time. Some books that did not make the canon were widely embraced at points in history.
This book is a helpful introduction to the events and currents that shaped and move the early Jesus movement. Some chapters deal with large, overarching cultural shifts like the rise of empires. Others deal with slow, evolutionary processes such as canonization. Of course, a book like this is a risky endeavor because there will be events ignored that others find more important. Also, when you name seven chapters you have to tie together a lot of material to that event (so the chapter on Jesus’ crucifixion covers a dozen adjacent topics). Carter does a fine job of putting together an easy to read book. Who should read it? I think the best audience may be someone who wants to delve into the history of early Judaism and Christianity, but who doesn’t know where to begin, nor who feels ready to engage a thick, wordy introductory textbook. This book fills the gap between having very little knowledge of these topics and having introductory level knowledge of these topics. If you don’t know where to begin then I recommend this book. It will help you!
KL = Kindle Location
J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013.
J. Warner Wallace is a Christian apologist, “a cold-case homicide detective, a missions leader, and a church planter.” He has written a book from this perspective that outlined his case for Christianity. Wallace asked if I would be willing to review his book and I obliged, though I confess apologetics of this sort is not my “cup of tea.”
I struggle with this book for a few reasons. First, I am a confessing Christian, but that doesn’t mean I think all the loose ends come together neatly. There remain many aspects of my Christianity that are in suspense or agnostic even. Meanwhile, Wallace directs a blog and podcast at PleaseConvinceMe.com that tends to work from the presupposition that evangelical Christianity has it “right” for the most part.
The man who wrote the forward to this book is Lee Strobal, a journalist turned apologist. I read Strobal when I was in college and it did help me think about my Christianity. Of course, over time, as I revisited many of the topics he addressed in his books I came to see the world is far more complex than his apologetics books presented. This is not to deny that Strobal honestly assesses the evidence using his journalist skills and that the evidence he found moved him toward becoming a Christian. It is to say that I don’t see things as black-and-white as Strobal.
Similarly, Wallace used his detective skills to study Christianity. Both Strobal and Wallace moved from atheism to Christianity. I don’t deny that Wallace examined the evidence sincerely, and if you want to read his book you can decide whether or not you accept his arguments, but I am a tad skeptical of some of his conclusions.
Message of the Book
The main point: [Evangelical] Christianity (more precisely an Evangelical understanding of the trustworthiness of the Gospels) can be defended through examination of the evidence. As I noted above, this is problematic for me because I have come to see evangelicalism as more ethos than creed. Evangelicalism has become increasingly difficult to assess through a list of doctrines. I imagine that the Christianity that Wallace defends isn’t the essence of Christianity to many readers of this blog, even those who are more or less theologically conservative.
The methodology: examine the evidence through the same steps Wallace uses to examine evidence as a crime scene or sees evidence presented in a courtroom. This has its problems as well. It is one-sided. I know quite well that the topics that Wallace addresses such as how the Gospels evolved or what early Christian tradition tells us about the earliest Christians lack the consensus that this book seems to presuppose. If the courts were examining whether the Fourth Gospel was written by John, the son of Zebedee in the late first century the defending attorney may use some or many of Wallace’s arguments. On the other hand, Wallace’s book doesn’t show you what the prosecuting attorney may argue.
Summary of the Contents
This book is divided into two main sections. Section 1: Learn to Be a Detective covers the first ten chapters where Wallace provides principles from his experience as a detective to help the reader examine the evidence for Christianity. Section 2: Examine the Evidence begins to apply what Wallace has promoted to particular case studies.
In Chapter 1: Don’t Be a “Know-It-All” Wallace begins by warning against dangerous presuppositions like philosophical naturalism and scientism. He warns (rightly) that our presuppositions can prevent us from seeing the truth of the matter. A detective must be able to examine the evidence considering multiple possibilities.
In Chapter 2: Learn How to “Infer” Wallace dives into the use of logic: collect evidence, know what is possible and what is reasonable, and several other helpful steps worth taking when trying to find the truth. This chapter examines the resurrection of Jesus. For those familiar with apologetical works on this topic it will be nothing new. Wallace argues that Jesus died. He argues against the disciples stealing the body, or hallucinating, or seeing someone they thought was Jesus. Honestly, I accept many of his points. I affirm Jesus’ resurrection, but it isn’t evidence alone that has lead me to it. If I were in a courtroom on a jury it would be hard to ignore one simple fact: people don’t resurrect from the dead. This analogy from real life would likely force me to ignore the other pieces of evidence presented. I have read Michael Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus and chunks of N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God along with much more literature on the topic. Personally, yes, I think that Jesus was resurrected, but I am aware that for every argument presented in this book there are counter arguments that are argued quite effectively. Wallace is an apologist. He will present one side. That is fine. It is expected. Yet I imagine many of my friends and acquaintances would be skeptical of the one-sidedness.
In Chapter 3: Think “Circumstantially” forms of evidence such as the value of an eye-witness or the use of DNA matching other clues is Wallace’s focus. Wallace turns this toward cosmology: the universe appears designed. I agree, but I know of many scientist and philosophers who find the order to be quite chaotic at its core. Yes, human life (complex life) motivates me to seek a Creator. It doesn’t do this for everyone though because there are arguments that seems to be as strong for the lack of a Creator as there are for a Creator. Whenever apologists hint at attacking the evolutionary paradigm I am nervous. I fear a simplistic argument is coming. I imagine many critics would circle Wallace’s arguments like hungry sharks.
In Chapter 4: Test Your Witnesses we find many of the common arguments for Gospels being based on eyewitness accounts. I am sympathetic, mostly due to the work of Richard Bauckham which seems to have influenced Wallace. Again, the problem for me remains a simple one: the presentation is one-sided. I know there are counter-arguments and this book will not present those counter-arguments. Again, it is the prerogative of the author to present his side. As a review this is something that concerns me.
In Chapter 5: Hang on Every Word Wallace uses “the art of forensic statement analysis” to see if the wording used in the Gospels indicate witness. Wallace investigates the tradition that the Gospel of Mark is based on the message of Peter. Again, it is possible. I know the arguments. I am not adverse to them, but neither do I think there are watertight arguments for Mark being based on Peter’s preaching.
Chapter 6: Separate Artifacts from Evidence examines, primarily, scribal transmission of the biblical texts.
Chapter 7: Resist Conspiracy Theories provides characteristics of conspiracies and then critiques some of the modern conspiracies against Christianity, e.g., anything authored by Dan Brown or movies like Zeitgeist. I am in complete agreement with this warning. Likewise, his challenge of those who present early Christianity as a conspiracy by the apostles seems like a fair warning to me.
Chapter 8: The Chain of Custody discusses the movement from eyewitnesses of Jesus to later disciples to written documents. Wallace will argue along the lines of Bauckham that the Gospel traditions have been relayed accurately. Again, I am sympathetic here, though I think the debate is more complex than this book allows.
Chapter 9: Know When “Enough is Enough” presents readers with a true observation that sometimes you can collect only so much evidence. Sometimes more evidence will not convince those who won’t be convinced. This chapter explores theodicy as a case study.
Chapter 10: Prepare for an Attack surveys the role of a defense attorney and then asks how these principles apply to the apologist or Christian defending his/her beliefs.
Chapter 11: Were They Present? begins Section 2. Wallace presents his reasons for affirming eyewitness testimony (e.g. no mention of the fall of the temple in any of the Gospels; the deaths of Peter and Paul aren’t mentioned; etc). Wallace presents Mark as being written between 45-50, Luke 50-53, and Acts between 57-60. This isn’t absurd. Even a skeptic like James Crossley has dated Mark quite early. Those familiar with the study of the Gospels are aware that there are many good reasons given by scholars for dating Mark in the late 60s, Matthew and Luke in the 70s to 80s, and John in the 90s, even by more conservative scholars. So my problem here is with Wallace’s stacking the deck. I fear some young reader will be quite exited to see the Gospels written so early, then later in life feel a bit betrayed by the simplicity and assurance with which these early dates were presented.
Chapter 12: Were They Corroborated examines verisimilitude, a worthwhile endeavor. Do the Gospels mention names and locations that match what we know about the time of Jesus. Yes. Also, Wallace investigates whether authors like Josephus and Tacitus seem to correspond to the Gospels. We know this is more complicated then what most apologist let on, Wallace included. Wallace examines archaeology, and this is helpful as well because some things like an inscription naming Pilate or the discovery of the Pool of Siloam are helpful for validating some aspects of the Gospels’ messages.
Chapter 13: Were They Accurate simplifies a complex chain of transmission accepting with little resistance that John the Apostle taught Ignatius and Polycarp who taught Irenaeus and so forth and so on. I am not denying this may have been true. It isn’t simple though. I think this books makes it appear that this is obvious, even a consensus. In fact, there remains much debate over these matters.
Chapter 14: Were They Biased? examines whether the early Christians had other motives like financial gain or power for spreading their message. I think it is fair to say few would argue this. Wallace argues against it.
Wallace ends with a postscript, further resources, and his notes.
Let me restate what I said in the beginning: I am sure that Wallace has done his homework and that he affirms in all honesty the arguments he presents. That said, while I agree with much of this content, even if I don’t take the same road to get to the same location, I fear from my own experience being raised around Christianity and reading Strobal, McDowell, and other apologists that the backlash against a book like this will be that it is extremely one-sided. For some, this book will help them become Christians. That is fine and dandy and I am excited about it. For others, it may help reinforce their beliefs. Again, this may be a good thing. For others it will prove convincing temporarily. I remember the Brian LePort of my early twenties. He believed McDowell’s The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict settled many of his questions. One problem: I kept studying. I realized things were more complex and there there are arguments that apologists don’t take seriously that ought to be taken seriously.
I appreciate Christian apologists. I do. I appreciate Wallace and the effort he presents with this book. Yet I remain worried that arguments that may help an 19-22 year old may hurt those same people later. I understand apologists can’t always argue like biblical scholars, presenting a thorough reason for their beliefs while interacting seriously with opposing views. Yet this may be the most dangerous flaw of Christian apologetics, especially when an apologist has a critical thinker in the audience.
So would I recommend this book? Maybe, for some, with a grain of salt. I would tell them to read it critically. I would remind them that this book doesn’t settle the matter and that further study is demanded. The Gospels are worth a life time of study and there is nothing wrong with being a Christian who isn’t so sure that Matthew wrote the Gospel attributed to him. I don’t think Wallace would disagree with me on this.
Two weeks ago I posted a review of Douglas Estes’ (Lead Pastor of Trinity Church in Mesa, AZ, and adjunct professor at Phoenix Seminary) new monograph The Questions of Jesus in John: Logic, Rhetoric, and Persuasive Discourse (Leiden: Brill, 2013), which you can read here. As a friend, mentor, and former professor of mine I asked if he would be willing to do an interview about the book and he accepted. This isn’t the first time I have interviewed him. I did a two part interview titled “The Pastor-Scholar” wherein we discussed pastoring for those with an academic bent (read Pt. 1 and Pt. 2). This interview is about his new book and why he thought it was important enough to write. Enjoy!
What is the thesis of The Questions of Jesus in John: Logic, Rhetoric, and Persuasive Discourse?
The basic thesis of the book is to better understand why the Fourth Evangelist selects the questions of Jesus he does, and what those questions mean for the reader. Rather than take a theological or literary approach, I used linguistics and rhetoric as my primary method. Along the writing path, I found myself being constantly challenged by Jesus’ questions as I did the linguistic work. I’m always skeptical when scholars claim to find a pattern in a text (unless it’s poetic), but I did begin to notice how the questions of Jesus make a subtle and related rhetorical push throughout the gospel. By the end of my writing the book, the unwritten thesis is that the Fourth Gospel contains a number of rhetorical hooks, of which the asking of questions is one. This partly explains why it is one of the (if not the) most read text ever written.
Why did you write the book? Why do we need to give more attention to the questions of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel?
I wrote the book because I felt the issue of questions (and really, non-statements or non-propositions) is largely unexplored in NT studies. I also felt that many works that deal with questions in the biblical text are feel-good and short on any rigor. I felt it was interesting; and I really wanted my next book as a scholar to be something of an unofficial Habilitationsschrift for me (original, serious research monograph). As far as paying more attention to questions in John, the primary reason we need to do that is that John uses them. If we avoid parts of the narrative, such as question-asking, we will not understand the narrative as well as we could. To put it differently: The way in which many, many people approach the gospel is to see what they can dig out of it (truth, meaning, historical facts, or the lack thereof). In this I find skeptical scholars are actually very similar to faithful churchgoers: they’re all gleaners, gleaning the text for information. I’m not sure John was written to be gleaned in this way!
Did this study change how you understand the Fourth Gospel as a whole? If so, what would you say is the before-and-after impact?
Yes, in a subtle but meaningful way. Before writing the book, I felt I had a basic grasp on John—his modus operandi, so to speak. But with John there are always little riddles that scholars have noted for many years now. Some of those are not always obvious, as they are hidden behind the ‘simple language’ of John. Writing the book certainly changed my view on its rhetorical impact, and design. As I believe you mentioned in your review, an after-impact was that I am now definitely leaning much more to the view that John was more written for outsiders (though such a rigid, binary insider vs outsider view I find too coarse), based on John’s linguistic features especially with his non-declarative expressions like questions.
In the first and final chapters you allude to possible studies that may follow what you have done in this book. You said that there is far more research to be done in the area of questions, especially as questions relate to ancient narrative. If you could list a handful of topics you’d be excited to see some potential scholar engage (e.g., as a graduate thesis or doctoral dissertation) what would those be?
I would love to see someone tackle the way Paul uses questions (or non-declaratives) in order to build up his arguments. That’s a book waiting to be written. I also think there is much more linguistic work that can be done on the NT text—linguistics is somewhat a new field, and its (meaningful) impact on the study of the NT has been minimal. I also think that there are also many studies that could be written on the various forms of question-asking and argumentation in OT books. When I wrote the QJJ, the OT folks were far ahead of NT folks in the study of argumentation (my opinion), but they don’t appear to make much use of linguistics in this particular area (as far I can see). Someone could easily go back and do research on the way interrogatives were used in Hebrew, from a linguistic perspective. One thing I noticed in writing QJJ is that some languages (such as Latin) have more robust resources for handling non-declaratives than our Greek resources do.
In 2008 you wrote The Temporal Mechanics of the Fourth Gospel: A Theory of Hermeneutical Relativity in the Gospel of John that was published by Brill as well. What connection might we find between these two books? Another way of asking this question: Did your first book prepare you for this subsequent study?
Based on the titles, it may seem there is no connection; and in fact, it didn’t seem like it until near the end of writing the QJJ that I realized the connection myself. Temporal Mechanics did prepare me for the study as it gave me a lot of practice in identifying unstated assumptions, and then thinking outside the box without leaving the ranch. So the primary connection is looking at old problems in new ways. I would say that is one thing that is probably consistent in my writing.
Do you plan to write on the Fourth Gospel again? If so, would you be willing to provide a preview? If not, where do you plan on focusing your writing in the near future?
Yes! Unfortunately, since I’m still working out details with publisher(s), I can’t really give much of a preview now (sorry). I can say that I am busy at work. I can also say that my next book out will be a totally different direction, it’s called Better Habits, Better Life: How to Coach Yourself to Life Change, co-written with Matthew Reed and will be published by Cascade Books in 2014. It’s a practical-theological consideration of the nature of personal transformation and change in the spiritual life. Writing this is an enjoyable diversion, but soon back to John!
I am scouting a weekend trip to Houston to visit some libraries for study and I’d like the advice of locals or those familiar with the city. I wanted to visit the Lanier Theological Library (LTS), but it is open M-F only, and I can’t be there during the week. (FWIW, LTS is hosting Alister McGrath on March 23rd and Don Carson on April 27th, so mark your calendar!) I imagine Rice University’s Fondren Library would be useful for my research. Is there a library that I am missing that is open on the weekend?