1. BIBLICAL THEOLOGY AND THE ENLIGHTENMENT.........................................................................................................3
2. AS WEARY PILGRIM.............................................................................................................................................................26
3. SYMMETRIES OF EQUIVALENCE: LOGOS AND THEOS IN JOHN 1:1-2.......................................................................29
4. LIGHT AFFLICTION...............................................................................................................................................................37
5. JONATHAN EDWARDS ON THE TWO ADAMS.................................................................................................................40
6. BOOK REVIEWS.....................................................................................................................................................................42
Biblical Theology and the
In my judgment, until recently, respect and peace has existed between
the proponents of Biblical Theology and her critics within Reformed
confessional churches and seminaries. In recent years, however, this spirit of tolerance
has begun to crumble. Although mystery surrounds what has triggered this
deteriorating spirit, three popular criticisms have intensified with respect to
Reformed Biblical Theology. First, Biblical Theology fails to apply the
Biblical text to the lives of God's people; often the analogy is used that it flies like
an airplane over the earth, never touching the ground. Second, the
redemptive-historical genre of Holy Scripture (Biblical Theology) is one perspective
of many genres that appear throughout the Biblical narrative (for example,
there is the genre of wisdom literature, parabolic literature, apocalyptic
literature, etc.). Third, the origin of the theological discipline of Biblical Theology
is within the critical-liberal theological tradition, specifically the German
From my perspective, the first two criticisms (application and perspectival) are the most persistent criticisms that appear upon the theological landscape today. The third criticism is not, however, without its vigorous adherents, and for that reason, this essay will address the third area of criticismthe relationship between Reformed Biblical Theology and the Enlightenment. In the current air of criticism, it is common to hear the more strident opponents of Biblical Theology simply attempt to discredit the discipline because it arose in the critical-liberal thought of the Enlightenment. A deductive argument is employed: Biblical Theology arose in the context of liberalism; therefore it is liberal.
Although logic books tell us that these critics have employed a logical fallacy in their argument ("genetic fallacy," i.e., attacking the source rather than the person or position), we must not dismiss their criticism so quickly. After all, we cannot overlook the fact that Reformed scholars as well as critical-liberal scholars hold that the discipline of Biblical Theology arose during the German Enlightenment. Specifically, whether we are reading Geerhardus Vos or Bernhard Weiss, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. or Brevard Childs, there is agreement that the modern development of the discipline of Biblical Theology occurred on March 30, 1787 with the inaugural address of Johann Philipp Gabler at the University of Altdorf.1 On that day, Gabler addressed his audience on
As Reformed and critical scholars have reflected on the content of Gabler's address, both sides have recognized that his project was steeped in the complex nuances of the Enlightenment. To be sure, such recognition creates an uneasy atmosphere around Reformed Biblical Theology since the Enlightenment expounds the fundamentals of modernity, i.e., exalting human reason over against the revelation of God's work in history.2 The Enlightenment is the era in which its leading intellectuals have been described as "modern pagans."3 These intellectuals served as the inquisitors, placing the God of the Bible upon the stand in their court of human reasondemanding that God tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.4 They demanded that the
3 See Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation: The Science of Freedom (New York: W.W. Norton, 1977) II: 125.
4 Carl L. Becker described the climate of opinion well: "What we have to realize is that in those years [Enlightenment] God was on trial" (The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1932] 73).
In light of the Enlightenment worldview, the question can be asked of Reformed Biblical theologianswhy would we even entertain the prospect of enriching the theological enterprise with anything that sets before us blatant unbelief and rebellion against Christian orthodoxy? Let me provide a tentative response to this question as I also reveal my thesis. Although Reformed theologians such as Vos and Gaffin commend Gabler's address for making the distinction that Biblical Theology is a historical discipline and that Dogmatic Theology is a didactic (teaching) discipline, at this point their approval of Gabler ends. After all, in compliance with the critical mood of his era, Gabler's enlightened mind and "pious" heart scrutinized the historical and revelatory character of the Biblical narrative in order to make it relevant to his generation. For this reason, as Vos unfolds his conception of Biblical Theology, it can be said that the discipline formulated by Gabler was not Biblical Theology at all. Rather, Gabler's conception of Biblical Theology was merely a critical hybrid of the grammatical-historical hermeneutical method. He adapted his exegetical method to the spirit of the Enlightenment while attempting to sustain stability for less than orthodox Christian beliefs in an era of transition and confusion.
The thesis of Immanuel Kant's famous 1784 essay entitled, "What is Enlightenment?" captured not only the spirit of the age, but also its theological and hermeneutical landscape.5 His dictum was clear: "Enlightenment is man's
7 Kant experienced the problems with both the academic and literary oversight of the German state. In 1786, Kant was denied the opportunity to teach philosophy at Marburg University because of the ruling of Frederick the Great and his government. Even so, in September of 1786, Kant was singled out by Frederick's administration and was elected a member of the Berlin Royal Academy. Later, in 1792, he had a book rejected for publication by the censor in Berlin.
8 The distinction between private and public use of reason did not originate with Kant. We know that it goes back to Leibniz (1646-1716), and is also found in Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) and Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694-1768). Concerning the connection between Leibniz and Lessing, see Henry Chadwick's essay, "Introduction," in Lessing's Theological Writings, trans. Henry Chadwick (Stanford: Stanford, 1956) 11. Concerning Reimarus, see Charles H. Talbert's essay, "Introduction," in Reimarus: Fragments, ed. Charles H. Talbert, trans. Ralph S. Fraser (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970) 6.
Although Kant's essay has left its mark on the history of ideas, its substance was not really new. Some sixty years prior to the appearance of Kant's essay, Christian Wolff (1679-1754), a disciple of Leibniz, had declared the Enlightenment motto"that freedom consists in this, that in judging truth one depends not on what others say, but on one's own mind."9 Wolff was emphatic; for one to be under the tutelage of anotherwhether a teacher or a creedwas to be in a state of slavery. For Wolff, freedom had to be realized through the continuing Cartesian renaissance of rationalism, and its attack upon the dominant status of theology as the queen of the sciences. Wolff demanded that the theologians carry out their discipline by using the rules of logic and reason as uncovered by the philosopher.10 He did not find this demand inconsistent with freedom; rather the unimpaired activity of the human mind was its liberating effect. In this context, Wolff asserted two basic premises which had a profound influence during the eighteenth century: "1) that revelation may be above reason but not contrary to reason, and 2) that reason establishes the criteria by which revelation may be judged."11 Although Wolff's synthesis of reason and revelation influenced the eighteenth century, it is true that during the fourth decade of the century the popularity of the pure structure of his philosophy began to wane in light of the new demand to reassess the relationship of philosophy and history.12 Even so, Wolff's position that reason is judge was solidly in place assisting the emerging discussion between philosophy and history. For not only was the faculty of reason being employed to liberate modern man from the dogma of the church, but in view
10 See ibid., 105.
11 Talbert, "Introduction," 5; cf. Saine, "Christian Wolff," 109-111.
12 Wolff's seeming synthesis of reason over revelation can be seen in the following statement: "The natural way, as the superior way, must always be preferred over the way of miracles, and therefore miracles cannot occur except where God cannot achieve his goal in the natural way. And in such a case miracles derive not only from God's power, but also at the same time from his wisdom, for he uses them as a means for achieving his end, which he afterward connects to natural ends; whereby the miracles are integrated into the natural order of things" (quote appears in Saine, "Christian Wolff," 111).
In light of our focus, the German pietistic movement, from which the modern discipline of Biblical Theology emerges, operated in the midst of this complex discussion of reason, history, and revelation. Sometimes referred to as neologians, S. J. Baumgarten (1706-1757) and J. S. Semler (1725-1791) employed a historical-critical approach to the Bible.14 They held, in different degrees, that the Bible revealed religious truth and that the Bible was imperative for the religious life; they also held that its content was not different from that of natural religion in general. Furthermore, following Wolff's lead, reason was to eliminate those individual doctrines of Christian revelation which were not identical with their view of reason.15 Perhaps more noteworthy is the fact that as rational and historical criticism performed its operation upon the pages of Scripture, the basic tenet of seventeenth century German pietism remained intact. The pietistic movement established by Philip Spener (1635-1705) and his disciple August Francke (1663-1727), continued to maintain that the inner religious experiences of the soul ranked above the dogma and external authority of the church.16 In fact, Spener expressed this distinction with interesting terminology; he contrasted the devotional "biblical theology" (theologia biblica) with the dogma of the prevailing Protestant "scholastic
14 See Frei, Eclipse, 111; Chadwick, "Introduction," 13, and W.G. Kümmel's The New Testament: The History of the Investigation of Its Problems, trans. S. McLean Gilmour and Howard C. Kee (Nashville: Abingdon, 1972) 62-68.
15 See Talbert, "Introduction," 5. Concerning the term "neologian," John Sandys-Wunsch and Laurence Eldredge write: "This term has been used by modern historians since Wilhelm Mauer to designate the theologians who steered a middle way between defending the whole of orthodox theology on rational principles and those who denied that there was any revelation apart from reason alone. In the eighteenth century 'neologian' was usually a term of abuse. The development of this term has not been adequately chartered by historians; however, Gabler appears to have been one of the first to use 'neologian' in a purely descriptive sense free from pejorative overtones" ("J.P. Gabler," 147, n. 1).
16 See Talbert, "Introduction," 4. Halle was founded in 1694 as a pietistic university.
I have already noted that Gabler's inaugural address (1787) has been viewed by many scholars as the turning point in the discipline of Biblical Theology. When the address was delivered, however, its immediate historical importance was not apparent. According to John Sandys-Wunsch and Laurence Eldredge, it was not until D. C. G. von Cölln's reference to the address in 1836 (about fifty years after the address) that Gabler received such patriarchal status concerning the discipline of Biblical Theology.18 In fact, there is no evidence that his inaugural address had a broad influence upon those who attended the address or upon his theological contemporaries throughout the German provinces. Rather, it seems that the theological climate at the time was "slow to accept biblical theology itself as a discipline."19 Moreover, until the appearance of Gotthelf Traugott Zachariä's (1729-1777) five volume set on Biblical Theology, which appeared from 1771-1786 (five vols.: 1771, 72, 74, 75, 86), the modern description of Biblical Theology was extremely vague, and its popularity had not emerged. Even after the appearance of Zachariä's first four volumes in the first half of the 70's, the next book that included the phrase "biblical theology" in its title was Hufnagel's Handbook of Biblical Theology in 1785. The discipline remained so obscure that J. A. Noesselt's work, Direction to the Knowledge of the Best General Books in All Subjects of Theology (1779), which was a standard guide for the theology students of his day, did not include a section on Biblical Theology, and Zachariä's work on Biblical Theology was only mentioned among those works "recommended" for reading. Even Noesselt's last edition in 1800 still failed to include a section on Biblical Theology.
18 See "J.P. Gabler," 149.
As Kant's essay revealed, the last half of the eighteenth century can be viewed as a period of theological unrest in the churches as well as in theological institutions. Things were not going smoothly. Sandys-Wunsch and Eldredge seem to be on target as they present the two basic problems.
First, how could the Bible still be the final authority in Christian doctrine when so many critical studies seemed to be destroying its believability and its unity of doctrine? Secondly, even if the Bible were assumed to be the basis for
21 Sandys-Wunsch and Eldredge, "J. B. Gabler," 151-158.
Christian faith, could there be a role for any further development of Christian ideas, namely dogmatic theology?22
Hence Gabler set out to maintain that the Bible is the final authority for Christian doctrine as he also attempted to reestablish a legitimate place for Dogmatic Theology. Gaffin summarizes Gabler's position correctly:
The gist of Gabler's position is that biblical theology is an historical, and for him that means, a purely descriptive discipline, concerned to discover what in fact the biblical writers thought and taught; dogmatics, on the other hand, is a didactic or normative discipline, concerned to provide a contemporary statement of faith based ultimately not on the Bible but on philosophy and the use of reason.23
Although Gabler held that there is a distinction between the historical origin of Biblical Theology and the didactic (teaching) origin of Dogmatic Theology, his address depicts a synthesis of the grammatical-historical method of biblical interpretation with the historical-critical and rationalistic approach of his own era.24
In light of the bold attacks upon the integrity of the Bible in his day, Gabler's address invoked the grammatical-historical hermeneutic of the Reformation.25 He must have sounded like a breath of fresh air as he demanded that his peers return to the Bible and its grammatical-historical character. Indeed, he echoed the Reformers by maintaining that the exegete is to study and classify the text according to its historical period (time and place) viewing the authors as well as the words and grammatical-constructions from within their immediate historical environment. After recognizing this basic proposition of agreement, however, his adaptation of the grammatical-historical hermeneutic begins to dissolve. Like Kant, Wolff, and the liberating mind of the En-
23 Gaffin, "Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology," 34.
24 Hans Frei also made this observation (Eclipse, 103).
25 Kümmel defends this point (New Testament, 112).
After studying and classifying the historical and grammatical context of the biblical authors, the exegete must collect and classify the ideas of each author throughout the Biblical narrative as well as clearly distinguish between what belongs to the Old and New Testaments, while at the same time (in pietistic fashion), giving higher relevance to the New Testament text. As the New Testament takes its exalted position in the Biblical text, Gabler pushed his synthetic hermeneutic towards its final goal. He told his audience in 1787 that the "careful and sober comparison" of each author as well as each testament was to enable the exegete to understand what is of temporal value and what is of universal value in the Bible. Specifically, in rational-empirical fashion, the opinions of the authors of Holy Scripture are to be "carefully collected" and "suitably digested" in order to see what "universal notions" emerge in comparison to them.26 For Gabler, what seems to be culturally conditioned by a particular time, place, or human idea is the temporal element, whereas what emerges as being universal is the divine element. As Gabler proceeded in his address, it became apparent that the litmus test concerning the universal was typical of the pietistic genre. The truly universalthat which is truly divineis "the unchanging idea of the doctrine of salvation" for all men.27 Herein, we are to find true religion as opposed to theology.28 For Gabler, then, true religion and the doctrine of salvation "is everyday, transparently clear knowledge" concerning "what each Christian ought to know and believe and do in order to secure happiness in this life and life to come."29 Simply put, it is
27 Ibid., 143.
28 Gabler's conception of the universal here is not that far detached from the 20th century distinction between Geschichte and historie in German critical-liberal theological thought. Gabler is defending a trans-historical position, a supra-temporal notion, of the universal in distinction from the temporaladmittedly without the transcending twentieth century existential element of going beyond the subject-object relationship. Indeed, we have here the notion of a canon within a canonthe Bible within the Bible.
29 Sandys-Wunsch and Eldredge, "J.P. Gabler," 136.
In this context, Gabler advocated his view of biblical inspiration; he maintained that the doctrine of inspiration must be viewed merely as conveying the universal notion of salvation. In other words, the biblical authors are inspired only as they bear the divine message of salvation. On the other hand, if the message of the biblical authors is viewed as only being relevant to a particular time or place, then that specific message is not to be viewed as inspired.31 Here, Gabler is following the lead of his fellow neologian, i.e., J. S. Semler's (1721-1791) landmark work on the Biblical canon entitled, A Free Investigation of the Canon (1771).32 Semler had come to believe that since the application of scriptural interpretation should take place in accordance with universal moral and religious principles, one can no longer believe that all sections in the Bible are equally inspired.33 Gabler was simply following suit.
What cannot be overlooked, however, is how the distinction between the eternal and temporal, the spiritual and the worldly, the universal and the particular in union with his view of Biblical inspiration affected his own distinction between Biblical and Dogmatic Theology. In summary, Gabler told his audience that Biblical Theology "deals only with those things which holy men perceived about matters pertinent to religion, and is not made to accommodate our point of view."34 Such a goal is accomplished by the empirical-grammatical-historical-critical hermeneutic, which for Gabler, simply meant
31 There is no plenary view of inspiration found in Gabler. In contrast, the Reformed Biblical theologian Geerhardus Vos will strongly defend plenary inspiration (See his "The Nature and Aims of Biblical Theology," The Union Seminary Magazine, [February-March, 1902] 198; this article has been republished under the same title in Kerux: A Journal of Biblical-Theological Preaching [May, 1999] 3-8, esp. p. 7).
32 See Frei, Eclipse, 111; cf. also Kümmel, The New Testament, 68.
33 See Ibid.
34 Sandys-Wunsch and Eldredge, "J.P. Gabler," 144.
As previously stated, Gabler was in tune with the spirit of his enlightened age; he was committed to using the public use of human reason as a liberating vehicle from traditional theological authority. Specifically, he was committed to a modern empirical-scientific method which maintained that Biblical Theology is "of historical origin, conveying what the holy writers felt by divine matters."37 The key term is "felt;" however, his use of the term was not a romantic-existential concept of feeling of a shared consciousness between the Biblical writers and the reader. Rather, for the exegete to know what the Biblical writers felt by "divine matters" was a result of a rigorous scientific investigation. Specifically, Gabler held that we are to proceed chronologically as we observe, collect, classify, and compare (empirical method of modern science) the data which each author wrote (grammatical) in their own historical context (historically) as those authors conveyed what they felt about divine matters. If the author's ideas "shape" men's "souls," then he is writing as a "sacred author," but if his ideas are attempting to "shape" the "needs of his time," then he is versing only human opinion. But how does one reach such a distinction? What is being observed, collected, classified, and compared?
37 Ibid., 137.
Besides Gabler recasting the grammatical-historical hermeneutic of the Reformation into the empirico-rational framework of modern science, his view of Biblical Theology also demonstrated a methodological difference with his enlightenment predecessor, Christian Wolff. Although an examination of the structure of his thought has revealed that he agreed with Wolff's assertion that reason is to judge revelation, nevertheless, when Gabler analyzed the historical and grammatical context of the biblical narrative, he began with language in its environmental context and not logic. In other words, unlike Wolff, for Gabler language precedes concepts (logic), or to put it another way, history precedes philosophy.38 For Gabler, however, history is merely the sequencethe progressof the Biblical narrative, written by inspired authors at various places and times in a contextual world, using the language of the culture. Herein, Gabler incorporated the position of the later Enlightenment period in distinction from Wolff, i.e., that history must liberate us from philosophy and logic. For him, Biblical Theology, as a historical discipline, secured such liberation. On the other hand, in the area of dogmatics, Gabler maintained the Cartesian and Enlightenment directive that reason or philosophy informs one's theological dogmas. In the arena of dogmatics, therefore, Gabler continued to find Wolff's method relevant; reason will continue to judge what had previously been believed.
As the universal principle is grasped by means of an empirical-scientific investigation of the Biblical text, it should not be overlooked that Gabler's method included an empirical historiography that was driven by a comparable conception of reason. During the Enlightenment, the faculty of reason went through a conceptual change; no longer was it merely a static faculty which possesses, acquiesces, and judges information, rather it also has an inherent power to control, change, and overcome the terrain of its world. This transition is a continuation of the authority and the autonomy of reason in secular western thought. In my judgment, the impetus for this movement was implicit in the construction of the nature-grace dualism (scholasticism) in which reason was presented as a neutral foundational category, and yet, complementary to revelation, faith, and grace. In the context of this dualism and the sinful state of man, reason will only press for its own liberationliberation not only of its own faculty but also as a power unto itself. In Gabler, we are observing
40 Ibid., 142.
41 Ibid., 136.
Through the empirical and rational procedure of observation, classification, collection, and comparison in the sequence of historical events, the inherent power of reason moves to the forefront of the enterprise. Through the empirical process, reason lifts off the pages of the Biblical narrative the universals that are to be believed from those things that are merely cultural. Reason judges and affirms within its own power what is to be received as divine and what is to be received as human. As one can guess, Gabler's view of "reason" teaches that we only have access to the effects of Biblical inspiration and not the cause of Biblical inspiration.42 Gabler held that an exclusive empirical approach to Biblical inspiration excluded an a priori understanding of the supernatural status of the Word of God. His point should be evident: we only have the record of sacred authors (the effects of Biblical inspiration). Reason reveals that on occasion the sacred authors were conveying a human teaching and at other times a divine message. Reason has the inherent power to extract from the grammatical-historical-empirical investigation of the sacred authors the universal message that is relevant for the salvation of men's souls. Moreover, reason also has the inherent power to extract from its scientific method what is left as mere human instruction from the biblical author. In essence, Gabler's Biblical Theology was constructing a new moral religion. Simply stated, it is a religion extracted from the Bible by the later Enlightenment view of human reason. For this reason, the religious product of Gabler's Biblical Theology is different than the supernatural revelation presented by the entire Biblical corpus. Specifically, the power of reason shaped Biblical historiography into its own moral universal religion.
Gabler's notion of Biblical Theology is merely the transformation of the grammatical-historical hermeneutic of the Reformation into the empirical method of modern science and its fraternal companion, the liberating effect of
In God's inscriptured Word, God's activity and God's interpretation of that activity cannot be separated. One must start with God and his revelatory activity in order to know, understand, and interpret God and his revelatory activity correctly. The hermeneutical approach to the canon includes the eschatological identity of Godone must begin with God (deed), and one must end with God (interpretation) in one's understanding of his Word. Such an eschatological structure of Biblical revelation cannot be found in Gabler's
44 Sandys-Wunsch and Eldredge, "J.P. Gabler," 137.
45 See Vos, Biblical Theology, 13; idem., "The Idea of Biblical Theology," 7. Further insight into this point is provided by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.'s essay, "The Vitality of Reformed Dogmatics," in Vitality of Reformed Theology: Proceedings of the International Theological Congress, June 20-24, 1994 (Kampen: Kok, 1994) 16-50. James T. Dennison, Jr. also captures Vos's position: "He [Vos] emphatically declares the revelatory character of the mighty acts of God in history. The act is identified with revelation in history. Moreover act is further explicated by word. Hence the mighty acts of God are not abstract momentsthey are followed by words of explanation and interpretation. And in the organic continuum of redemptive history, act and word progressively unfold. Acts recapitulate one another; words additionally exegete one another" ("What is Biblical Theology? Reflections on the Inaugural Address of Geerhardus Vos," Kerux: A Journal of Biblical-Theological Preaching [May, 1987] 38).
Perhaps in light of the connecting link to Biblical and Reformed orthodoxy, Vos is the father of modern Biblical Theology. Indeed, new elements were brought to mind by the critical-liberal Biblical theologians, e.g., the position that Biblical Theology is a historical discipline. Since facts only have meaning within their given context, the connection between critical and orthodox Biblical Theology ends. Gabler's view of history was shaped by the dynamic of empirical reason and not by the authority of God and his Word. In what had become customary and fashionable during the Enlightenment, his view of reason stripped history of its supernatural character, and thus constructed another natural religiona universal moral religion based on the Christian ethos. It was not a coincidence, therefore, that Vos frequently used the terminology of "supernatural religion" to describe the revelation of Biblical religion. Such terminology as used purposely to contrast the natural or rational religion of the critical-liberal Christian theologians who preceded him. As far as Vos was concerned, their view of history was antithetical to the God who acts and interprets the whole story of Biblical history.
Even in light of this tainted past, Vos was able to place the new discipline consistently within the confines of Biblical and Reformed orthodoxy. One
I would suggest that this directive makes sense; we must remember first things first. First, the Reformers had to change the substance of theological formulations, and then, perhaps, they would see the need of addressing the system of theology. In their day, however, and even by the late nineteenth century, the need to address the formulation of the system of theology was not clearly perceived by most Reformed theologians. In my judgment, Vos was the person who not only continued to address the substance of theology (e.g., Christ's resurrection is the primary subject of Paul's soteriology, not the atonement), but also attempted to transform the system of theology (e.g., eschatology moves from the end of systematics to the beginning). Vos's project should not be viewed as an attempt to upstage or truncate the position of the Reformers; rather, he was simply attempting to apply more consistently a Reformed view
48 See Ibid., 22-23. Richard A. Muller has made the same observation (Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena to Theology [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987] I: 63, and "The Problem of Protestant ScholasticismA Review and Definition," in Reformation and Scholasticism: An Ecumenical Enterprise, ed. Willem J. van Asselt and Eef Dekker [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001] 53-54).
49 See Weiss, Biblical Theology, 23.
Although the Reformers were still operating with the rubrics of medieval Roman Catholic theology, the seeds were being planted for understanding the structural flow of Biblical revelation in a whole new way. The emphasis was upon the authority of God and the sovereign control of whatsoever comes to pass. Specifically, God's own providential dealings in the course of history are pervasive in the Reformers and the Reformed Confessions. This view of God and history came to expression in what the Reformers saw as the continuity element in Biblical revelationthe idea of the covenant. Unlike some Lutherans or the Anabaptists, the Reformers understood the Bible as a whole. Portions of Scripture were not elevated in comparison to other portions of Scripture (Lutherans), and the New Testament did not eradicate the Old Testament (Anabaptist). Rather, with Augustine, the Reformers proclaimed that the Old is contained in the New and the New is contained in the Old.
In this context, one must not forget that for Calvin typology became a hermeneutical principle he employed to attack the allegorical interpretation of medieval hermeneutics, i.e., Old Testament persons as well as certain institutions (e.g., priests, temple) were types of Christ.50 Even among the Reformers the expanse of the grammatical-historical method was not limited to the language, historical context, and sequence of the narrative. Rather the grammatical-historical method appeared in the context of the sovereign God of heaven and earth revealing himself in history, i.e., through the covenant unfolding in Christ.51 In Reformed theology, therefore, the covenant and
51 See Scobie, "History of Biblical Theology," 12; Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 37; and Geerhardus Vos, "The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology," in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980) 234-267.
Furthermore, one cannot overlook the hermeneutical principle of the Reformation, i.e., "that Scripture interprets Scripture." The Reformed view of the historical continuity of Scripture testifies specifically to the hermeneutical principle of the Reformers; this hermeneutical principle is nonsense without the unfolding history of revelation. For this reason, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. has stressed that the analogy of Scripture is implicitly Biblical-theological; this hermeneutical principle depicts the essence of the discipline of Biblical Theology.52 In light of Gaffin's observation, it is easy to conclude that Vos's work was a consistent outworking of the Reformed principle of hermeneutics. On the other hand, it takes great strain to connect Gabler to this Reformed principle. If anything, Gabler teaches us the danger of the grammatical-historical method of exegesis if not properly placed within Reformed orthodox perimeters.
If one truly believes that Reformed Biblical Theology is tainted merely because modern Biblical Theology arose in the Enlightenment, then one has failed seriously to do his homework. As students of God's Word and the history of western thought, it is our duty to uncover and expose the philosophical presuppositions that underlie the critical-liberal construction of Biblical The-
When this humanistic religion is exposed through uncovering its presuppositions, then we are confronted with the full force of the antithetical nature of liberal-critical Biblical Theology in respect to Vos and his faithfulness to the hermeneutic of the Reformed tradition. We must realize that the common features between Vos and Gabler dissolve in light of the presuppositions, structure, and content of their respective views on Biblical Theology. The holistic construction of Vos's Biblical Theology is antithetical to the holistic construction of Gabler's formulation.53 The idea that Biblical Theology is a historical discipline and Dogmatics is a didactic discipline, or that the discipline of history precedes the disciplines of philosophy and dogmatic theology does not reveal much substantive continuity between Vos and Gabler. For Vos, these observations as well as biblical "facts" occur in a contextthe context in which the one true God, i.e., the ontological Trinity, gives meaning to the facts. The Bible records the actual activity of God, and the Bible provides God's own interpretation of those acts. Such a position is not found in Gabler.
Lookout Mountain, Georgia
As weary pilgrim, now at rest,
Hugs with delight his silent nest,
His wasted limbs now lie full soft
That mirey steps have trodden oft,
Blesses himself to think upon
His dangers past, and travails done.
The burning sun, no more shall heat.
Nor stormy rains on him shall beat.
The briars and thorns no more shall scratch,
Nor hungry wolves at him shall catch.
He erring paths no more shall tread,
Nor wild fruits eat instead of bread.
For waters cold he doth not long
For thirst no more shall parch his tongue.
No rugged stones his feet shall gall,
All cares and fears he bids farewell
And means in safety now to dwell.
A pilgrim I, on earth perplexed
With sins, with cares and sorrows vext,
By age and pains brought to decay.
And my clay house mold'ring away.
Oh, how I long to be at rest
And soar on high among the blest.
This body shall in silence sleep,
Mine eyes no more shall ever weep,
No fainting fits shall me assail,
Nor grinding pains my body frail,
With cares and fears ne'er cumb'red be
Nor losses know, nor sorrows see.
What though my flesh shall there consume,
It is the bed Christ did perfume,
And when a few years shall be gone,
This mortal shall be clothed upon.
A corrupt carcass down it lays,
A glorious body it shall rise.
In weakness and dishonour sown,
In power 'tis raised by Christ alone.
And of their Maker have the sight.
Such lasting joys shall there behold
As ear ne'er heard nor tongue e'er told.
Lord make me ready for that day,
Then come, dear Bridegroom, come away.
Aug. 31, 1669
Logos and Theos in John 1:1-2
The Colwell Rule of New Testament Greek grammar has been marshaled by defenders of the deity of Christ to deflect the suggestion that John 1:1c (theos hen ho logos ="the Word was God") assigns a divine quality to the Logos/Word, not divine essence. Colwell's Rule is rushed to the defense of the Word's essential deity on the grounds that nouns in the predicate which both lack the definite article (i.e., are anarthrous) and precede the verb are not qualitative, but definite. Since John 1:1c finds theos in the anarthrous state and before the verb (hen), Colwell's Rule requires definite force, i.e., God (cf. Leon Morris, Commentary on the Gospel of John [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971] 76-79).
However, the admirable intent of the defenders of our Lord's essential deity requires a more nuanced application of Colwell's Rule. "Colwell stated that a definite PN [Predicate NominativeJTD] that precedes the verb is usually anarthrous. He did not say the converse, namely, an anarthrous PN that precedes the verb is usually definite. However, this is how the rule has been misunderstood by most scholars . . . " (Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996] 260, emphasis in the original; cf. his full discussion of our text, pp. 266-69). The traditional translation, "the Word was God", must be defended on other grounds, i.e., theology, syntax, grammatical context, etc. (see below). The deity of the Logos (God with a capital "G") is defensible in spite of anarthrous theos.
The threefold definition of the Logos/Word (John 1:1-2) proceeds on the basis of identity and distinction. The Logos/Word is identified with God, while being distinguished from God. The second phrase ("and the Word was with God," John 1:1b) suggests this distinction, i.e., the Logos/Word stands alongside ("with") God. Yet the first and third phrases (John 1:1a and 1c) suggest his identity with God. Thus the Logos/Word is God, while being a distinct person alongside of his Father (the Logos/Word's favorite term for designating God in the fourth gospel). There are therefore at least two persons in the Godhead designated Father and Son (especially in John's gospel). We may paraphrase John 1:1In the beginning was God the Son, and God the Son was with God the Father, and God the Son was God (as God the Father is God).
I would like to examine the structure of John 1:1, 2 in order to determine whether any fresh evidence of Logos-Theos equivalence may be found. In other words, is it possible to support the orthodox Trinitarian consensus from other aspects of the text? Let us begin by counting terms/words. Verse 1a reads En arche hen ho logos (5 words); verse 1b reads kai ho logos hen pros ton theon (7 words); verse 1c reads kai theos hen ho logos (5 words); verse 2 reads houtos hen en arche pros ton theon (7 words). NB: there are no variants in the text critical apparatus of John 1:1, 2. We discover that the alternating clauses contain parallel word totals. We also discover that the alternating clauses contain parallel (even identical) phrases.
Taking the non-parallel terms in 1a and 1c, we are left with en arche and theos ("in the beginning" and "God"). "In the beginning God" is an emphatic reminiscence of Genesis 1:1 (En arche . . . theos, LXX)hence a creation/new creation paradigm. It is also a clear declaration that before the beginning (i.e., creation), God was already existent. In fact, before the beginning, God was; before the beginning of creation, there was (in existence) nothing but God. John's affirmation of the eternal existence of God is fully supported by biblical affirmations throughout the Old Testament and New Testament. Thus, the first two parallel sections (v. 1a and v. 1c) place the Logos/Word in duplicate positions, while leaving God's being (theos) expressed by the corresponding phrase "in the beginning"=from all eternity.
In addition toin fact building uponthe particular parallelisms in the clauses is the phenomenon of equivalence. In v. 1a and v. 1c, theos is en arche. In v. 1b and v. 2, ho logos is en arche. An old axiom teaches that quantities equal to the same quantity are equal to each other. In this case, God is in the beginning; the Logos/Word is in the beginning. Therefore God is equivalent to the Logos/Word.
Less mathematically, but no less truly: if eternality is predicated of the Logos/Word and eternality is predicated of theos (God), then the Logos/Word shares the incommunicable attribute of divine eternality. In other words, Logos/Word is eternal (God) as God is eternal God.
The first two verses of John's magnificent Prologue are a taut, indeed parallel declaration of the deity and eternality of the Logos/Word.
But there is more. The literary form of these two verses is a fascinating stair step parallelism. Notice how the word which ends a clause is the word which begins the next clause in step down or stair step fashion.
As we follow this literary, staircase device, we notice that it is not merely aesthetic. It is theological. What is said of logos/Word is said of theos/God. There is in fact a prefect symmetry or balance between the occurrence of the terms logos and theos. Verse 1a ends with logos and v. 1b begins with logos; v. 1b ends with theos and v. 1c begins with theos. Thus far a double symmetry in John's stair step pattern. It would appear that the end of v. 1c and the beginning of v. 2 break the pattern. But on closer examination, v. 1c and v. 2 are a recapitulation of the balanced symmetry of 1a, 1b and 1c (first term). Notice that 1c ends with logos and v. 2 ends with theos. The symmetry is not broken or abandoned; it is preserved in a (single) balance or equivalence between terms used in the previous stair step paradigm. It is as if John epexegetically reinforces his staircase pattern with a final, emphatic declaration that Logos and Theos are co-essential. In other words, as the staircase pattern brings Logos and Theos together in duplicate, symmetrical fashion, so outside the staircase (v. 1c, final words and v. 2), Logos and Theos are also symmetrical. In fact, the clue to the relation of Logos and Theos is found both in the stair step pattern as well as the pattern of equivalence. Can there be any question that John equates Logos and Theos? Surely not for those with structural (as well as grammatical) eyes to see.
Finally, if the staircase paradigm is a symmetrical revelation of Logos-Theos identification (the Logos is God, second person of the ontological Godhead), then we should expect equivalences inside the clauses of these verses. Notice then what happens when we bracket v. 1b and v. 1c.
In fact, we discover a chiastic pattern in the bracketing.
The chiasm is a reciprocal paradigm of identity. Again, John's taut literary structure declares the equivalence of Logos and Theos. They are (chiastically) reciprocal and therefore identical. Structurally, from the chiastic arrangement of the terms, the Logos/Word is God.
Consistent with John's literary structuring device of parallelism elsewhere (i.e., vv. 1b and 1a), he provides a straightforward balance between Logos and Theos from the beginning. Here is another clear indication of essential deity (with personal distinction and hence no Sabellianism) between Logos and Theos.
The heart of this identification is found explicitly in v. 1c: kai theos hen ho logos. The verb "to be" (hen) is an equals sign: kai theos=ho logos. The predicate nominative reveals that the left side and the right side of the verb "to be" are relationally symmetrical (e.g., Jim is a boy means boy=Jim and Jim=boy). Here, God was the Logos means God=Logos (and Logos=God).
If we consider yet another arrangement, we note the following:
Grammatically, structurally, staircase paradigmatically, chiastically, concentrically, parallelistically: Jesus of Nazareth (the incarnate Logos, cf. John 1:14"the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us") is GodGod, the Sonfor he is the Logos whom John declares to be Theos. Well might we fall down with Thomas at the end of John's gospel (20:28), even as we fall down at the beginning of John's gospel and confess: Logosmy Lord and my God (theos)!
Northwest Theological Seminary
(I want to express my thanks to Tin L. Harrell, Registrar and Adjunct Instructor in Greek at Northwest Theological Seminary, for her helpful suggestions on this article, especially the material on the Colwell Rule.)
assault the recently
the murderous heart
conspires to deprive.
In it all,
one word setting boundaries;
someone talking of home
where a round-faced boy
clings to a glass wall.
The outside Abel pleads for love
and dead still speaks;
what Cain walks inside
molding his many women for praise,
his children for rule?
the homeless heart stirs
as a cat
to a cough
how to be home
with no woman,"
"but seeing you
Crystal shatters, breaking glass
the wandering Cain chained in gas
and Abel clothed
with child and bride.
This is the mature form of a poem conceived in 1982, when it is entitled "Speaking though Dead" (this version appears in a letter dated 3/26/82). This original title provides one New Testament commentary on the Old Testament Abel and Cain narrative (Heb. 11:4). From the first breech, the verse gestated through five successive growth spurts until "Light Affliction" was full born 5/26/83. The final title is an allusion to 2 Corinthians 4:17; in fact, the final handwritten version of the poem has the title "For Momentary Light Affliction". But the author crossed out the first two words leaving the present title as it appears in his own printed compilation"a collection of thirteen poems, 1977-1990" which he labeled Translation. It is the eschatological translation which lies at the heart of each of the thirteen poems.
the Two Adams
Christ, the second Adam, acts the same part for us that the first Adam was to have done, but failed. He has fulfilled the law, and has been admitted to the seals of confirmed and everlasting life. God, as a testimony and seal of his acceptance of what he had done as the condition of life, raised him from the dead, and exalted him with his own right hand, received him up into glory, and gave all things into his hands. Thus the second Adam has persevered, not only for himself, but for us; and has been sealed to confirmed and persevering and eternal life, as our head; so that all those that are his, and that are his spiritual posterity, are sealed in him to persevering life. Here it will be in vain to object, that persons persevering in faith and holiness is the condition of their being admitted to the state of Christ's posterity, or to a right in him; and that none are admitted as such till they have first persevered. For this is as much as to say, that Christ has no church in this world; and that there are none on this side the grave, that are admitted as his children or people; because they have not yet actually persevered to the end of life, which is the condition of their being admitted as his children and people; which is contrary to the whole Scripture.
Christ, being the second Adam, and having finished the work of Adam for us, does more than merely to redeem or bring us back to the probationary state of Adam, while he had yet his work to finish, knowing his eternal life uncertain, because suspended on his uncertain perseverance. That alone is inconsistent with Christ's being a second Adam, and having undertaken and finished the work of Adam for us. For if Christ, succeeding in Adam's room,
Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer, Readings from the Ancient Near East. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002. 240 pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-8010-2292-4. $21.99.
It has been more than forty years since we have had a handy, one-volume compilation of Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) texts illustrative of the context and genres of the Biblical world. D. Winton Thomas published Documents from Old Testament Times (DOTT) in 1958 (paperback edition, 1961). It was the coveted, if affordable, standard for those who could not justify the "bible" of ANE texts, James B. Pritchard's Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ANET) (3rd edition, 1969; first published in 1950).
Much has changed in forty years, not the least of which is the 1993/94 discovery of the Tell Dan inscriptioncontaining the only extant extra-biblical mention of "David." It is that inscription which appears on the cover of Arnold and Beyer's new handy, one-volume compilation of ANE texts illustrative of the context and genres of the Biblical world (cf. p. 165 for a translation).
Yet more than the Tell Dan inscription has come to light since
DOTT. Fresh editions of Hittite texts (influential in comparative covenant/treaty
studies from the 2nd millenium B.C.); the Balaam text from Deir Alla (discovered
in 1967); new editions of Assyrian and Babylonian chronicles (from the
indefatigable A. K. Grayson); and Syrian Semitic compilations have also
The volume contains excerpts from creation and flood myths (Sumerian and Babylonian). Here the editors are perhaps too concessive with respect to the parallels with Biblical creation and flood narratives (cf. the works of A. R. Millard and K. A. Kitchen for some essential and necessary distinctions between Biblical and pagan creation and flood narratives).
The genres we find in Scripture are represented here: covenant formularies; law codes; cultic texts; letters; hymns; laments; love lyrics; etc. In this reviewer's opinion, the sublime and historical nature of the Biblical narrative stands in antithesis to that of the surrounding cultures, formal similarities notwithstanding. As supernatural revelation, Scripture's unique position in its world is evident as one reads through these (often) bizarre texts.
The editors have provided few, brief notes (if they provide notes at all). Nor has the publisher provided a Scripture index for ease of reference. In this respect, DOTT is far superior: the notes were extensive; and the Scripture index was complete. While no one-volume compilation of ANE materials is perfect, the present contribution is better than nothing (DOTT being out-of-print and dated). Until the next edition of ANET (if any! and if we can afford it), Arnold and Beyer will help.
My last sentence should not be regarded as overlooking William M. Hallo's monumental The Context of Scripture. Volume one (subtitled "Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World") of this massive compilation (599 pages) of ANE texts appeared in 1997 at the hefty (Brill titles always are! more's the pity!!) price of $129. The complete set consists of two more volumes each priced at $129: "Monumental Inscriptions from the Biblical World" (v. 2, 438 pages, published in 2000); "Archival Documents from the Biblical World" (v. 3, 406 pages, published in 2002). Hallo may well supplant Pritchard as the standard anthology.
James T. Dennison, Jr.
This is a short book on Matthean priority; thus a short review. For the uninitiated, Matthean priority is the traditional view that Matthew's gospel was the first to be written; hence prior to Mark, Luke and John.
Black is not writing for scholars. This is a popular book, requested by his students as a handy, non-technical discussion of the issues surrounding the synoptic question. In this, the book succeeds. Some students of the synoptic problem might suppose that Black is defending William Farmer's case for Matthean priority (so-called Two-Gospel Hypothesis of J. J. Griesbach). Not exactly. Black's variation on the Griesbach theme is dependent on work of Bernard Orchard who coined the term "Fourfold-Gospel Hypothesis."
Black's presuppositions are clear: concrete supernaturalism, really true miracles, deity of Christ, inspiration of the gospels. He places himself antithetically to the Enlightenment (pp. 7-8, 35-37) which eroded the church's historic belief in the inerrancy of Scripture by focusing on alleged "contradictions" in the gospels. The result of Enlightenment (post-Enlightenment) higher criticism is that the gospels are a mere human product.
Black suggests that Matthew's gospel was composed for the Jerusalem church before 42 A.D. (or 44 A.D., cf. pp. 68, 67). Paul used this gospel on his first two missionary journeys. But realizing his Gentile audience needed something appropriate to their interests, Paul asked Luke to compose his gospel using Matthew as a model. He finished his work sometime before Paul's imprisonment (62 A.D.). Peter had come to Rome during Paul's incarceration. He delivered some "speeches" on the life of Jesus using Matthew and Luke (both of which he had at hand) and supplementing them (as well as selectively choosing passages from them) with his own eyewitness testimony. Peter's companion, Mark, wrote down these "speeches" so as to form the gospel which bears his name. John's gospel rounds out the fourcomposed late in the first century.
Black constructs his case, in part, on the strength of the external
evidence from the early church fathers. This patristic data is neatly summarized
(pp. 37-42) by quotations from ten sources ranging from Irenaeus to
Black then turns his attention to a critique of the Markan hypothesis, i.e., Markan priority (pp. 47-59). Noting that the "academic guild" dismisses the external evidence from the fathers ("basically legendary and unreliable"), the theory of Markan priority is erected to account for the existence of the gospels as we have them. Black notes that biblical higher critical prejudice against the fathers is not found among "classical Greek and Roman scholars" (p. 48).
The book concludes with a summary of "The Making of the Gospels" (pp. 66-90). Black makes a credible case for the gospel order as we have it. His case is bolstered by the testimony of the church fathers. Significant historical testimony indeed! save to those who believe that before Kant, Reimarus and Lessing all "history" was invented. In sum, Black's case is as credible as the alternative. It may be even more credible!
James T. Dennison, Jr.
Karl P. Donfried, Paul, Thessalonica and Early Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2002. 347pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-8028-0509-4. $26.00.
Donfried is one of a number of New Testament scholars who have been contributing fresh work on Paul's Thessalonian correspondence. Raymond Collins, Gene Green, Abraham Malherbe and Jeffrey Weima (cf. his lectures in 1 Thessalonians at Northwest Theological Seminary in August 2002 available through nwts.edu) are among this academic queue. Eerdmans has gathered several of Donfried's essays published in scholarly vehicles from 1974 to 2000. The whole is introduced by a "Preface" and "The Scope and Nature of the Essays: An Introduction and Some Responses" (xvii-xxxviii). A new essay is included ("Shifting Paradigms: Paul, Jesus and Judaism," pp. 1-20) and "Was Timothy in Athens? Some Exegetical Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 3:1-3" (pp. 209-220) is translated from German into English for the first time.
The last mentioned essay is worth the price of the book. I recall my first reading of it and the revelation it provided to the Thessalonian world of Paul and his Christian readers. While Donfried unduly elevates the obscure Cabirus cult (straining the limits of credibility), he provides an essential and fascinating window on the plethora of religions found on the streets of Thessalonica when Paul visited in the year 50 A.D. or later. What dramatic significance (let alone semi-eschatological significance!) this accords to the apostle's words: "you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God" (1 Thess. 1:9)! And the consequences of that conversion ("turning")? "tribulation" (1:6), "suffering" (2:14), "affliction" (3:3). The church among the Thessalonians was a persecuted church earning the hostility of a polytheistic/pluralistic pagan culture intolerant of claims to "one way", "no other name under heaven", "no man comes to the Father but by" Jesus Christ. The immediacy of Christ alone because of the immediacy of cultural ostracism is striking.
Donfried is an optimistic ecumenist as his endorsement of the Lutheran/Roman Catholic "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" (1999) indicates ("Justification and Last Judgment in PaulTwenty-Five Years Later," pp. 279-92). His lust for aggiornamento on the crucial doctrine of justification by Christ alone through grace alone by faith alone is sadly tarnished by accommodating an eschatological ("once and for all") and forensic ("declared righteousness") Pauline concept into a Roman Catholic concept of sanctification ("made righteous" by the renewal of the Holy Spirit) and renovation. Luther is not cheering this essay!
But the advocates of the "New Perspective on Paul" will find no friend
in Donfried. His work on the Qumran literature (is he slightly too
optimistic here as well?) is a sober reminder that the Sanders/Dunn thesis of
"covenantal nomism" is subject to serious question (as the work of Friedrich Avemarie
The essay on "The Theology of 1 Thessalonians as a Reflection of Its Purpose" (pp. 119-38) is a helpful if somewhat de-eschatologized overview. The essay on the church ("The Assembly of the Thessalonians: Reflections on the Ecclesiology of the Earliest Christian Letter," pp. 139-62) reminds us that the assembly of the Lord is a gathering of those "in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ . . . and in the Holy Spirit" (1 Thess. 1:1, 5; cf. 2 Thess. 1:2). The Thessalonians were united to the Triune Godset apart ("his choice/election of you"1 Thess. 1:4) from the pagan culture of their metropoliscalled (even now!) "into his own kingdom and glory" (2:12).
For those studying 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Donfried's book is essential reading. Used critically, it will open up the world in which Paul and the Thessalonians lived. That world is our world too!
James T. Dennison, Jr.
Craig R. Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2003. 347 pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-8006-3594-9. $27.00
This is the second (and revised) edition of what unfortunately has become
a standard work on Johannine symbolism. Among those who have
examined organizing patterns in the fourth gospelirony (Paul Duke); narrative
dynamics (R. Alan Culpepper); literary structure (George
Mlakuzhyil)Koester reduces the gospel to symbol. The book is a pedestrian if unremarkable
exploration of symbolic persons (or better, persons as symbols, pp. 33-78),
symbolic actions (pp. 79-140), symbolic terms (i.e., light and dark, water, etc.,
pp. 141-206). The content of the entire gospel is treated from the symbolic
point of view. For the second edition, the author has rewritten many of the
chapters, added new symbolico-theological observations and appended a new
Koester is quite clear in his presuppositions. The fourth gospel as we have it is a symbolic reconstruction of the distinctive theologies of various early Christian communities. If this sounds vaguely familiar, i.e., like the outmoded form critical analysis of the Bultmannian era, that is precisely what it is. The incident with the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn. 4) makes her the symbolic spokesperson for the Samaritan outsiders vis-à-vis Jewish Christian insiders (symbolically represented by the preceding Nicodemus narrative). In fact, Koester informs us, the Samaritan woman's five husbands (Jn. 4:18) are symbols of the five nations whom the Assyrians settled in Samaria following the conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722/721 B.C. Neat! Bet you would never have guessed that!! And this is not, mind you, allegorythis is "Johannine symbolism."
Lest we become carried away with overreacting to Koester's symbolic allegorism, we learn that the healing of the lame man (Jn. 5) is symbolic (in part) of the pagan healing shrines of Asclepius and Serapis (p. 53). Furthermore, the "I Am" declarations of Jesus are reminiscent of the proclamation of the Egyptian goddess Isis, "I am Isis, queen of every land" (p. 98). And the 5000 member crowd gathered for the feeding by the Sea of Galilee is "typical" (?symbolic) of Greco-Roman crowds eager for "bread and circuses" (p. 56). But Koester is not finished. He blithely informs us that the report of the miracle at Cana was received by early Christians because of the Greco-Roman association with Dionysos, Greek god of wine (p. 85).
Koester reduces all persons, venues and incidents to foils for people
groups in the ancient world. The book is replete with illustrations and
quotations from Aristotle, Dio Chrysostom, Cicero, Seneca, Josephus. All this pagan
veneer is laid over the symbolism of John's gospel so as to make the
gospel connect with "humankind" in the first century world. In other words,
John's symbols are merely common human experiences. Those common human
experiences (need for food/breadJohn 6; need for drinkwine/water, John
2 and 4; need for communityJesus' "unity" with the Father) are the
We may ask what created what? Did symbol create reality or did reality create symbol? Or is reality in fact symbol? In fact, symbol is reality. Yet in the final analysis, for Koester, it does not matter. Invoking the gods of theological symbolismPaul Tillich and Paul Ricoeur (represented in the footnotes and bibliography)Koester dispenses with historicityconcrete time and space eventreal objectivity. Jesus is a symbol; Johannine Christianity is a symbol; modern Christianity is a symbol. It is a symbol of pluralistic multiculturalism. For "John" (surely a symbol!), the multiculturalism of the first century world is the flux out of which Johannine Christianity (and all Christianity) emerged. If this last sentence reads like a late 20th century American cultural fad, then you will understand the real thesis behind Koester's book. The gospel of John is merely his vehicle for conveying politically correct multiculturalism to the contemporary church.
Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel is a symbol! It is an allegory of a post-Enlightenment worldview laid over the Greek text of the gospel of John. John's gospel in Koester's hands is as credible as the bizarre allegorism of the rabbis, some of the early church fathers, even the medieval sages.
Koester has written a tract for the times using (yes, USING!) John's inspired gospel. Save your money!!
James T. Dennison, Jr.
Jacob Neusner, Judaism When Christianity Began: A Survey of Belief and Practice. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 2002. 202 pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-664-22527-6. $19.95.
This is the latest from the pen of reputedly the most prolific
author/editor/compiler of our era. Neusner (pronounced NEWS-ner) is alleged to
have his name attached to more than 800 monographsa prodigious output
The book is a very helpful survey of the ethos of Judaism (whether at the time of Christ will be argued, since Neusner himself admits that the rabbis altered the faith after Constantine; cf. pp. 95, 101). An orthodox Christian reader will find insights here which bear on the "parting of the ways" and shed light on Israel's objection to Jesus as Messiah, let alone Son of God.
Neusner teaches us that Judaism began with the Babylonian exile (destruction of the Solomonic/First Temple in 586 B.C.). The experience of exile and return created the paradigm for Israel's religious narrative. Adam and Eve's exile from Eden was a primitive form of the narrative. Abraham's exile from Ur of the Chaldees was another, as was Israel's exile from Canaan under Jacob/Joseph and post-Exodus return under Moses/Joshua. "[T]he system of the Torah after 586 did not merely describe things that had actually happened, normal events so to speak, but rendered them normative and mythic and turned an experience into a paradigm of experience . . . the paradigm began as a paradigm, not a set of actual events transformed into a normative pattern. And the conclusions generated by the paradigm, it must follow, derived not from reflection on the things that happened but from the inner logic of the paradigmthere alone" (p. 61, emphasis in original). In truth, post-exilic Judaism "invented" the "myth" of Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Joseph, Moses and Joshua in order to project her own 6th century B.C. experience back into her mythic past. In other words, Adam, Eve, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshuathese are not actual historical persons. They are the remote idealization of Israel's post-exilic experience. The existential experience of loss and return, creates the narrative of the loss of Eden, the loss of Ur, the loss of Canaan, the loss of Egypt, the loss of the promised land (cf. p. 82). Neusner demonstrates the over-arching drama of this post-exilic experience read back on to Israel's pre-exilic past.
This raises the question of the origin of the Torah (law of God given
to Moses). Our previous paragraph leads us to expect a post-exilic origin for
the figure of "Moses" and his Torah. Neusner confirms our expectation. All
Judaism has "perpetually rehearsed the human experience imagined by the
This invention of Judaism following the destruction of the Temple (586 B.C.) is based upon two sources: written Torah and oral Torah. Both of these sources are defined as divine revelations. (Protestant readers will note here a precedent for the Roman Catholic doctrine of twofold truthScripture and tradition.) Oral Torah is derived from traditions of what God spoke to Moses on Sinai. These traditions are called qabbalah and masoret. They are embodied in the Talmud, the Mishnah and the teachings ("lore") of the rabbis. "The Torah of Judaism encompasses not only Scripturethe written part of revelationbut also an oral tradition" (p. 30; cf. chapter 9).
Even the reflections of a student (of Torah) as he recites to his master/teachers stand "within the circle of the revelation of God to Moses at Sinai" (p. 112). Oral Torah is thus very fluid, never fixed, ever evolving. And if one insists on written Torah alone (sola Torah)? "a heretic is someone who rejects the duality of the Torah" (p. 116). If one asks about the prophets and the writings of the Old Testament, these too are part of and derivative from oral Torah. The absolutization of Moses (however mythical or invented) in Judaism makes any subsequent claimant of revelation (Jesus for Christianity; Mohammed for Islam) "idolatry" (p. 3). Moses alone is sufficient.
Thus far the formal principle of Judaism (dual Torah); what of the
material principle of Judaism, i.e., that which constitutes its way of approach
to God? If Protestants answer sola fide propter sola gratia propter solo
Christo (by faith alone because by grace alone because by Christ alone) and if
Roman Catholics answer fide et opera (by faith and works); Judaism
answers sanctificatione (by sanctification). Sanctification or holiness is the
prerequisite for acceptance with God in Judaism. And why is Judaism privileged to
be given access to God? "there was no better, more worthy choice, because
of Israel's willingness to receive the Torah" (p. 137). Study, explication,
reflection upon the Torah becomes Judaism's unique story. Hence access to God
is derived fundamentally from the legal and cultic patterns of the
However this reconciliation is a "return" paradigm: a return to Eden, a return to the Land, a return to Jerusalem, a return to the Temple. Judaism reflects the retrospective paradigm in order to recover what she has lost. But the myth of the return is always limited by the horizon of the world/the earth. Judaism wants the return of Eden (in this world); the return of the Land (in this world); the return of the city (in this world); the return of the sanctuary (in this world). Not only the absolutization of Moses, but the backwards absolutization of the myth of Israel's earthly/this worldly narrative. Jewish transcendence ends with time and space. The suggestion of a world other than this one would be heresy indeed. Creation is the acme of Jewish eschatology.
Even the Messiah of Judaism ushers in a this worldly golden age: "he will raise the dead, restore Israel to the land of Israel, and prepare the way for judgment and the recovery of Eden" (p. 172). And when will Messiah appear? "When Israel really wants the Messiah to come, he will come . . . the messiah's advent and activity depend on Israel, not on messiah's own autonomous decision, character and behavior" (pp. 172 and 173).
A Messiah who is resurrected; is himself the Israel of God in the heavenly land of eternity; undergoes judgment in the place of the eschatological Israel in order that there may be no condemnation for them; possess, as the eschatological Adam, the paradise of Godsuch a Messiah holds little or no interest for Judaism. Tragically, he is too other worldly for our Jewish neighbors.
James T. Dennison, Jr.