1. DUTCH: THE WITHERING OF A LANGUAGE......................................................................................................................3
3. ORIGEN: A REVIEW...............................................................................................................................................................16
4. TO LIFE....................................................................................................................................................................................30
5. THE PASSION NARRATIVES OF MARK AND LUKE........................................................................................................32
6. DAVID AND MANIPULATION, DECEPTION AND MURDER...........................................................................................45
7. ORIGEN ON CHRIST..............................................................................................................................................................51
8. BOOK REVIEWS.....................................................................................................................................................................52
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The following article by Geerhardus Vos is the last published composition known to have flowed from his pen.2 It was written in response to a request from Albertus Eekhof that Vos provide some reflection on Dutch-American matters following his retirement from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1932. The reader will note that the article is dated "late October" 1932 and postmarked Santa Ana, California. It is to this sunny retreat that Vos moved with his wife Catherine in the fall of 1932. They made their home with their youngest son, Geerhardus, Jr. (or "Jerry").
When Vos left Princeton, New Jersey for the last time in the early summer of 1932, he was recovering from severe illness. He had submitted to abdominal and oral surgery for conditions that were life threatening. In a let-ter dated April 28, 1932, he anticipates the quiet and refreshing of his beloved
2 I am excluding the small "Preface" dated September 1, 1948 which stands at the beginning of his Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (1949).
Vos's remarks here are intriguingmore for what he does not say than what he does. He avoids ecclesiastical matters ("I do not want to pursue church-related . . . issues")even eschews "religious" issues ("I have preferred not to give it a specifically ecclesiastical coloring"). The reader should keep in mind the explosive ecclesiastical climate of 1932. J. Gresham Machen has withdrawn from Princeton Theological Seminary as a result of the gerrymandered Reorganization of 1929 engineered by President J. Ross Stevenson and his cronies. Westminster Theological Seminary has been established in Philadelphia (1929) to continue the Old School, Old Princeton tradition. But Geerhardus Vos does not joinhe does not join Machen in his departure from Princeton, nor does he lend his hand to the emerging Presbyterian schism (i.e., the 1936 formation of the Presbyterian Church of America, after 1939 called the Orthodox Presbyterian Church). In 1932, Vos declines to discuss these prominent ecclesiastical matters or even their contextcertainly newsworthy to the Dutch and especially the Dutch Reformed world. In the same
4 The question of whether or not Vos accompanied the body of his wife to the cemetery in Roaring Branch following her death in Santa Ana in September 1937 appears to lean towards the negative. He deeded the property in Pennsylvania to his children in the fall of that year, but executed the notary from Southern California. Hence, I believe he did not come to Roaring Branch for the interment of his wife. The fact that the California funeral was held at their Southern California address slightly reinforces my judgment.
5 In 1923, the Voses had sojourned in La Jolla, California and environs in a sabbatical spring and summer.
Allowing for due self-abnegation (which Vos confesses in his October 28 letter to Eekhof), nonetheless Vos's silence, his failure to comment on Princeton and Grand Rapids is a marked change from his letters of the 1880s and 1890s to Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck. In those epistles, he was incisively critical of the Grand Rapids backwater as well as euphoric about the scholarly advantages in his new surroundings at Princeton. Something has changedand that dramatically. Vos's silence speaks potential volumes. And it adds to the enigma of the man.
This enigma may be resolvable in perhaps only one wayunio cum Christo ("union with Christ"). And yet, even that dominant motif in his magnum opus, The Pauline Eschatology (his most mature work), is in the background not only of these pieces, but of his correspondence from 1931 to 1949. Only the miscellaneous poems from this era carry a hint of the old Vosian paradigm.
The translation has been admirably prepared by Mr. Ed M. van der Maas of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The footnotes are his as well.
The recovery of the Neerlandia articles is due to the patience and persistence of Rev. Brian Vos, pastor of Trinity United Reformed Church, Caledonia, Michigan. Brian poured over pages of Dutch periodicals in an attempt to locate additional 'Vosiana'. The reader now enjoys the fruits of Brian's labors. And the editor adds, Gratias tibi ago, Brianensis. Laudemus novissimum agnum!
James T. Dennison, Jr.
In response to a request to write something for Neerlandia about the situation and prospects of the Dutch element in the United States, I will try to limit myself as much as possible to the question of the usage of language and national self-awareness. I do not want to pursue church-related (or even general religious)2 issues that are more or less intertwined with the above-mentioned problems. I realize that Neerlandia does not represent a particular religious stance.3
The prognosis for the future of Dutch as a living language in this country is not favorable. It is even a question whether the time for prognosis is not already past because the patient has been given up by the physician. When I arrived here in 1881, Dutch was still a living language that was used in the pulpit, in several periodicals, and in everyday communication. The Americanization of the young people among the immigrants already had some impact even back then, not yet quite as visible but nevertheless effective.
The first Dutch sermon I heard here was delivered in the worst Dutch I have ever heard in a public address. Yet it was spoken by someone whose connections with the Netherlands were still fairly fresh. But nothing was done to stem the inevitable deterioration of language that filtered in from the English-thinking and English-speaking surroundings, or to create a counter-balance. It cannot be denied that in this respect matters have much improved in the two or more decades that followed.
2 In the original, the closing paren is misplaced; it should precede rather than follow "vragen."
3 Lit. "color."
This gave a new impetus to maintaining the native language of many of the pastors, even young pastors. Later this literature began to be translated. This was generally speaking a positive step, but it was at the same time symptomatic of the fact that the younger element was growing away from a knowledge of Dutch, which was a prerequisite for the profitable use of these works. Those who were interested began to feel that they could no longer draw from these works the best they had to offer. The fact that the translation was at times inadequate did not change this. It is better to make do with a poor translation than to have an unintelligible and therefore unread book in the bookcase.
Another reason for the retardation of the transition process I want to mention is the impact of the theological and pre-university education6 in certain schools. This was of better quality than the stylistically and grammatically inferior Dutch7 that was used before, and that was left to continue virtually unchecked. Until now there are (weekly) news periodicals that use relatively good Dutch. But it goes without saying that this cannot continue much longer. The supply of pastors from the Netherlands has stopped, since the current institutions [in North America], of which a large number use English, fairly
5 Lit. "new"
6 "voorbereidend onderricht."
7 "stylistically and grammatically inferior Dutch": "kreupel Hollandsch," lit. "cripple-Dutch."
The most effective factor in the Anglicization of the Netherlanders here can be found among8 the young people, who soon no longer understood Dutch or sometimes rather prematurely claimed9 that they could no longer understand it. This is natural. It is undoubtedly true that "I can no longer" often bordered on the "I don't want to any longer." But the fact remains that the powerful attraction of the broader and more modern American environment was irresistible to the "younger people."
The Dutch-speaking churches had to make arrangements for English services in the interest of the coming generation, but also for their own sake, because this generation strongly tended toward a gradual dissolving of various denominations into the American churches.10 No one can deny that this arrangement was indispensable. It has delayed for many young people the estrangement from their religious heritage,11 although it has not been able to prevent it altogether. We will leave out of consideration here whether the remedy was taken to hand too early or too late, even as the question as to whether the methods used were always wise.
There are still older folks of Dutch descent in certain regions who need Dutch in preaching; consequently an ever-shrinking number of young, bilingual preachers has not yet become entirely superfluous. But it is said that given a choice between calls, there is a strong preference for entirely English-speaking congregations.
It cannot be denied that the ascendancy of English in general among the
9 Vos italicizes kunnen (could), but it seems better to italicize claimed instead.
10 This is best sense I can make out of this sentence. It fits, but I am not altogether sure.
11 Lit. "mother soil."
This was a deterioration of the language that had its source among the Netherlanders themselves. At present, and with this I want to conclude my brief comments, there is a great danger that American-English in all circles suffers from a malady that perhaps within half a century will turn it entirely into a coarse "slang" language. There are not a few who openly admit that they can no longer understand this new way of speaking. And this process of corruption of the language is not limited to the common man or youth only. It threatens to make inroads in otherwise "cultured" circles, among older, more conservative individuals. I was told of a professor who in a lecture on a historical topic referred to certain historical characters12 as "this guy" and "that guy." If this happens in the greenwood, what will happen to the kindling of everyday language? In my judgment this is a serious question. I mention this because incompletely grasped English presents fertile soil for such usages to gain the upper hand. It must be a source of great amazement that in spite of the intensive education in correct English, on which the thousands of public schools concentrate, the younger generation of Americans that comes out of these schools seems as soon as they graduate, to be unable to muster even the least resistance to the decay of language in everyday life .
It seems a pity to have to note this and to speak about it in Askalon or Gath.13 English, the beautiful language that at first had such a awesome ap-peal to the young people of Dutch descent, seems now to be underway to
13 Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon (KJV); 2 Samuel 1:20.
Dr. Geerhardus Vos
Santa Ana, California
U.S.A, Late October 1932.
This article is printed without changing the American-Dutch linguistic and stylistic peculiarities. A[lbertus] E[ekhof]
shadow deepens with age
typing patterns in my spirit;
how? it isn't clear.
He stands before me speaking his name;
I know himthe fair son
who foregoes his rule
and looks the fool,
whose kingdom David would claim.
Squinting now I'm blurry-eyed;
they are knit with me outside
and they the truth of Israel.
marches me in crippled steps
since that fair son's heir
strides along the Jordan
not even a limp,
not even a trace,
he walks outright
and that by grace
to see his father's hope.
But what of me?
Stumbling at the horror,
shunning the goal
since earth weds my flesh
and determines my soul.
betrayed, I feel
with cause to rage
his coming again must mean
for me a half at least;
but having him, the King,
only that and leave the rest,
is the heart of this Mephibosheth.
The first stanza propels the reader into David's eyes, striving to see beyond the shadows of a long life, striving to capture illumination as he looks back to a distant moment. The memory comes in the second stanza, "He stands before me speaking his name"a memory heard in the voice of his friend, Jonathan, son of Saul and heir apparent, "the fair son who foregoes his rule, and looks the fool, whose kingdom David would claim." With this remembrance of a covenant bond between the House of David and the House of Jonathan, we are introduced to Jonathan's physically crippled son, Mephibosheth, who like his father is content to sit at David's table rather than claim the throne of Israel.
But while David has kept covenant with Jonathan and his crippled
son, the roles are now reversed. David is now "knit" in covenant with their
earthly humiliation. His kingship, his house, his covenant promise is now in the
grip of his Geshurite son. For Absalom, David's pride and joy, his handsome
favorite, his beloved heir, his cunning manipulator, his arrogant demigod,
In the fourth stanza, we follow the "later lamentation" of David. He who once lamented in crossing the Jordan when losing his throne, now laments in re-crossing the Jordan when regaining his throne. David's mourning "marches [him] in crippled steps"crippled by selfish grief for his dead son Absalom, who was fair in form but not fair in grace. Crippled, he meets the crippled son of Jonathan at the crossroads of the Jordan River.
At the Jordan, a juxtaposition of vision and image takes placeDavid's eyes meet Mephibosheth and Mephibosheth's eyes meet David. Inside David's line of sight, we see "the fair son's heir" striding into view along the Jordan. Mephibosheth "walks outright" with "not even a limp, not even a trace," all disheveled appearance and physical impediment aside. Mephibosheth's upright stature is the substance of things unseen, for it is the reality of a godly grace. And by grace, we are inside Mephibosheth's line of sight too. Not fair in form but fair in grace, he is "walking outright" in his joy "to see his father's hope" return from across the Jordan. It is enough for him to see the return of the living King.
The forceful opening lines of the fifth stanza, "But what of me? Blinded!" recalls the reader from the wondrous vision at the Jordan and unites him once again to David's dimness in the first stanza. In his mourning, David is "stumbling" over the dead son, the dead hope of his sinful flesh. He is "shunning the goal" as he weeps for that physically attractive "earth wed" to his flesh, for that political progeny whose throne is overthrown by death's devastating finality. David's hope, much less his soul, can never be determined by the earthly things which are seen. The Davidic covenant promise cannot be fulfilled by confidence in the flesh.
"Mephibosheth" brings us into yet another perspectivean eschatological one which unites truth with sight. In the background of this poem, there is a covenant loyalty to yet another Davidic Son and King who will come along the Jordan (Is. 9:1-7; Mt. 4:12-17), who will be betrayed, who will suffer humiliation outside, who will rise from the dead and reign eternally on a heavenly throne. Of this greater Son of David, the apostle says, "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him . . . ." (Phil. 3:7-9).
[Many thanks to Ms. Kristin A. Dennison for sharing her notes (based on the comments of Charles G. Dennison in 1996) and insights into this poem.]
This is the inaugural volume in the publisher's new series labeled The Westminster Handbooks to Christian Theology. The goal is to provide "resources for the study of historic and contemporary theological movements and Christian theologians" compiled by scholarly experts in the field. The choice of McGuckin for the initial volume is felicitous. His expertise in Alexandrian Christianity (especially Christology) was displayed in his masterful volume St. Cyril of Alexandria: The Christological Controversy, its History, Theology, and Texts (1994). The latter work details the Nestorian-Cyrillian debates with the post-Chalcedonian aftermath. McGuckin's measured treatment of Nestorius ("he insisted that he had meant to teach that Christ was one, meaning that there was only one centre of personal action, will, and understanding in him formed of an intimate union of two distinct realities that had been perfectly harmonized in love") is as refreshing as his acknowledgement of Cyril's irascibility ("Cyril's synopsis of his opponent was inaccurate"). In the present volume, he contributes a scintillating survey of Origen's life and writings (pp. 1-44). The remainder of the book consists of topical articles on aspects of Origen's thought contributed by thirty-five scholars, several of whom are recognized as Origen specialists (Ronald Heine, Charles Kannengiesser, Frederick Norris). The absence of Mark Edwards is regrettable (see below). Individual articles range from "Allegory" to "Worship" and include reviews
If this first-in-a-series is indicative of what will follow, the publisher is to be highly commended. As a mini-reference library on Origen, this volume is unsurpassed. And the presence of the bibliographies directs the lover of detail to further resources. With the present volume as the standard, future volumes should be equally welcome.
Origen's reputation has suffered tortuouslyeven as the poor body of the aged pater ecclesiae was tortured during the Decian persecution. Condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553),2 his works were suppressed, destroyed, expunged and his great name sullied beyond redemption in many quarters. Jerome cites his most devoted biographer, Eusebius of Caesarea,3 as estimating the bibliographical output of our subject at nearly 2000 titles. Epiphanius, an inveterate enemy of our subject, credited him with 6000 titles. By either measure, Origen remains nonpareil. The story of Origen's seven secretaries recording and copying the words of the peripatetic Alexandrian is justification for this prodigious output. But with their patron's fall from grace, alas their labors have vanished with the sources. Fragments of the corpus have been recovered in the 20th century (Toura/Tura in Egypt, ca. 20 miles south of Cairo, in 1941), others have been reassigned (74 homilies on the Psalms once attributed to Jerome have been restored to Origen by Vittorio Peri of the Vatican Library), but the bulk of this prolific church father's thought has disappearedperhaps lost forever. All the more reason for caution in weighing the man, his theology and his influence. In the main, McGuckin's team displays this cautious irenicism that has marked the scholarly investigation of Origen since 1950.
3 Book 6 of Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History (EH) is devoted to Origen; cf. NPNF2 1:249-92. McGuckin notes the other extant biographical sources: Gregory Thaumaturgus, Panegyric; Pamphilus, Apology for Origen; Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, 5; Epiphanius, Panarion, 64; Photius, Bibliotheca.
Such pre-critical 'ignorance' could only be regarded as 'unenlightened' in an era dominated by philosophy (i.e., 18th-20th centuries when the gospel was recast in the guise of Rationalism, German Idealism, Existentialism and Linguistic Analysis). But Origen reminds us, in principle, of the Protestant formal principlesola Scriptura. And having asked to be evaluated by that principle, all lovers of Scripture may judge Origen by his own canon. Where he falls short, he may be corrected, even rejected; where he displays the mind of God in Christ Jesus, he may be warmly embraced.
"He who was in the form of God emptied Himself, that His name might be as ointment emptied out, that He might no longer dwell only in light unapproachable and abide in the form of God; but that the Word might be made
McGuckin's superb synopsis of Origen's career benefits from the major biographies of Jean Daniélou (1948/1955), Pierre Nautin (1977), Joseph Trigg (1983), Henri Crouzel (1985/1988), as well as innumerable specialty studies.
McGuckin passes over the slur suggested by Epiphanius (Origen was
"by race an Egyptian") to concur with the learned consensus that Origen was
born in Alexandria about 185/186 A.D. This is seventeen years prior to the
persecution unleashed on Christians by the Emperor Septimius Severus
(193-211) in 202. Origen's father fell victim to this persecution. The fact that
Leonides was beheaded indicates his social prominence in the (Roman) Egyptian
world. Martyrdom meant confiscation of property by the state treasury, so that
the fatherless firstborn son was now the sole provider for his mother and six
brothers. Accordingly, Origen launched a grammar school in Alexandria and
quickly gained prominence as a Grammatikos. Origen's intellectual interests (and
gifts) are evident even in these critical teenage years. His father had urged him
to memorize the Scriptures (LXX) as a child and this, in part, may have
commended him to Bishop Demetrios/Demetrius of Alexandria (d. ca. 232).
At age eighteen (ca. 203), he became a catechist in the church at
Into this emerging portrait enters the shadowy figure of a 'Hebrew' or Jewish Christian in Alexandria. Does this Hebrew mentor impact Origen's thinking before or after his pursuit of 'philosophy'? That Origen studies philosophy in the schools of Alexandria is not doubted. But did he come to philosophy based on his faith; or did philosophy become the vehicle of his nascent faith? The question is of no small importance in Origen's development. Most patristic texts argue that Origen is a philosopher first and a Christian second; at least, they imply that Origen was dominated by philosophy more than Scripture. This unfortunate polarization is reminiscent of the perennial faith versus reason debate. For most, Origen favors reason, philosophically defined. However, the Scripture memorization and the catechetical tutoring argue the primacy of faith (or at least, the integration of faith and reason synthetically). Mark Edwards has suggested that for Origen "knowledge must rest on faith" (Origen Against Plato, 19). The mysterious Hebrew tutor may therefore be regarded as more influential than the schools of the philosophers whom Origen eventually visited. And that reinforces Harnack's famous remark about Origen: "there has never been a theologian in the church who was so exclusively a Biblical exegete." The 'actuality' of Origen from his childhood is dominated by the divinely-inspired Scriptures, not philosophy.
Even McGuckin is forced to admit that "he was driven, perhaps above all else, by his close reading of the Scriptures" (p. 5, n. 32). While reconstructing Origen as a Middle Platonist, scholars run up against the adamantine Origen, i.e., he is a biblicist not a sophist. If philosophy is pursued, it is for apologetical or antithetical purposes. Mark Edwards is the leader of a small group of Origen contrariansthey are absolutely persuaded he is not a Platonist (Middle, Neo- or otherwise). And they are absolutely persuaded that Origen is fundamentally an exegete.
Before continuing our outline of Origen's life, we must address the notorious tale of his self-mutilation or castration. This apocryphal tidbit has been the favorite of anti-Origenists for centuries and is still regarded as credible by Crouzel, of all people! Even the inveterate Origen hater, Epiphanius, confesses the report may be a myth. But the most damning indictment of this misrepresentation comes from a primary documentOrigen's Commentary on Matthew (15.1-5). Origen here rejects the literal meaning of Matthew 19:12 commenting instead that the 'eunuch' is one not titillated by evil.6 It is therefore inconceivable that he could literally apply the passage to himself when "only an idiot would consider" actual self-mutilation the directive of Christ (McGuckin, p. 6).
The conflict with his bishop, Demetrios, is therefore not due to extremism. McGuckin suggests that it arises from jealousy over the recognition Origen
6 PG 13:1254-67. Compare, "I think that this same Ethiopian eunuch is said to be a eunuch because, 'He made himself a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven,' or even because he had in himself no seed of wickedness" (ACW 26:104).
Origen relinquished his school to his (at the time) friend Heraclas in order to become an itinerant Didaskalos ('Teacher'). He also began work on the first Christian systematic theology text, Peri Archôn (=De Principiis="First Principles")7. He then embarked upon a sojourn to the (foreign) schools of the philosophers. Perhaps the episcopal temperature in Alexandria was becoming too hot for the budding theologian. About 212, he disembarked in Rome where he visited the Sophists, reportedly heard Hippolytus (ca. 170-236) preach and encountered 'Pope' Zephyrinus (ca. 198-217). Back to Egypt, only to be summoned to (Roman) Arabia (=Jordan) the following year (213) by a prefect interested in learning about Christianity firsthand from an 'expert'. This was likely the initial occasion on which he visited the sacred sites of the Old and New Testaments (his reflections on etymologies and locations have been invaluable to commentators through the years). Back to Egypt, only to leave again when Emperor Antoninus Caracalla (211-217) ordered the massacre of students in Alexandria who had mocked or insulted him (215). Origen returned to Palestine, settled in Caesarea and began to duplicate the famous library at Alexandria. Between trips as a peripatetic 'book collector', he was invited to deliver "discourses" on Scripture by Bishop Theoctis (d. ca. 260) of Caesarea and Bishop Alexander (fl. 202-250) of Jerusalem. McGuckin notes that the "discourses" (some have suggested "public lectures") may not technically have been sermons, since preaching was reserved to ordained clergy and Origen was as yet a layman. But Bishop Demetrios of Alexandria was not amenable to the "fine line" articulated by his eastern counterparts. He protested Origen's usurping the place of the ordained clergy. The eastern bishops were not cowed by their Egyptian peer and justified Origen's addresses as "good" for the people.
Origen obeyed the summons from his home bishop to return to Alexandria. With him, he carried a Hebrew scroll found in an earthen jar near Jericho. The latter would be incorporated into his justly famous Hexapla; and it has led to suggestions that Origen tapped the Dead Sea Scrolls before their discovery in 1947. Encouraged by his wealthy patron, Ambrose, whom he had converted from Valentinian Gnosticism, Origen set to work with his seven stenographers. But Demetrios harried him still.
In 231/232, Origen left Alexandria for good.8 The date is also the tenth year of the Emperor Alexander Severus (222-235). Origen first goes to Athens, perhaps to buy books for the library at Caesarea.9 On arrival once more in that burgeoning cultural and religious center, Bishops Theoctis and Alexander ordained him a presbyter. Perhaps, as McGuckin suggests, the furor over Origen's doctrine of apokatastasis arose from this period. The Greek word means "restoration". Origen was accused of teaching universal salvation for all moral creatures, including the Devil. His protests in the Letter to his Friends in Alexandria10 fell on deaf ears then as they have been ignored down through the centuries. It remains a standard textbook misrepresentation of Origen's position. But "Origen had explicitly insisted that the devil would not be saved" (Frederick Norris, "Apokatastasis," p. 61).11
9 McGuckin reverses the order recorded by Eusebius, EH 6.23.
10 Found in Rufinus, Liber de adulteratione librorum Origenis (PG 17.624-26).
11 Norris cannot resist his own un-Origenistic theologizing by addinghow on earth does he know?!that 'pastoral' Origen would have left the question of the final salvation of the damned 'open' on account of the love and benevolence of God. Poor Origen! He is still conformed to the image of those who want him to fit their agendas.
Ordination in hand, books increasing on the shelves, Origen proceeds to establish a Christian school at Caesarea. Here Alexandrian culture as it were replicates itself: Christianity flourishes; Hellenistic philosophy possesses a part of the intellectual community; and a school of the rabbis fosters Jewish exegesis destined to be gathered into the Mishnah. The interface of all these stimuli fosters the (later) Byzantine cultural mandate, i.e., Christian institutions such as schools and libraries (as well as churches) promoting the mission of the church in the culture.
Origen was busy preaching every Wednesday and Friday in Caesarea. Eusebius alleges he refused to permit the sermons to be copied down until he was 60 years old (the homilies on Luke excepted). Thus, the sermonic remains of Origen date from the final decade of his life and represent his mature preaching, content and style. This idyllic life was violently disrupted in 235. In that year, the Emperor Alexander Severus was murdered by members of the Roman army and Maximus Thrax ("the Thracian") was elevated to the throne. Maximus (235-238) inaugurated a pogrom against the friends of his predecessor. Christians who were caught in the drag net were executed on account of their (former) ties to the imperial family, not on account of their Christianity. Origen went into hiding, no doubt because of his prominence as a Christian leader in the Severan era. The Eastern Church argues that the 'Augustine' of the third century sojourned in Cappadocia to escape the imperial wrath. McGuckin argues (persuasively) for closeting in Caesarea proper. In any event, Origen went underground for the duration of the three-year blood letting (235-238).
With the death of Maximus, Origen traveled to Athens once more
where he spent considerable time writing: his Commentary on
Ezekiel was completed here (between 238 and 244) and his remarkable
Commentary on the Song of Solomon (Jerome regarded it as his finest work) was begun
here. Back in Caesarea, he enjoyed relative tranquility through the reign of
The sleep of death put Origen beyond the reach of his tormentors, but not beyond the animus of his detractors. Perhaps history (and our handbook) is balancing the record at last.
The 77 articles that follow (pp. 49-218) address specific aspects of Origen's thought. We will sample two: "Scriptural Interpretation" (pp. 193-97) and "Trinitarianism" (pp. 207-9). Both articles address vexed issues in Origenism.
Origen was prolific. He wrote commentaries on nearly all the books
of the Bible. And he preachedhundreds of sermons on the Bible. The bulk
of this corpus is lost, but enough has survived to delineate the mind of the
Alexandrian interpreter. Our article posits the standard (allegedly Pauline)
tension in Origen between spirit and letter. The literal sense, or most basic and
elementary meaning of the text, is superseded by the spiritual (or
mystical) reading. This dichotomy sounds strangely Gnosticdoubly strange in
being assigned to the radically anti-Gnostic Origen. Our article proceeds to
assign this twofold distinction (literal/spiritual) to Greek trichotomist
psychology (man consists of body, soul and spirit). But then our author acknowledges
that "Origen himself does not rigidly apply a tripartite system" in his
exegesis. Strange again! Has Origen forgotten himself or is the modern scholar
not penetrating deeply enough into the profound mind of Origen. In other
Next our article brings in "allegory" as the solution to the beyond-the-literal (i.e., spiritual) meaning of the text. Comparing the article on "Allegory" (pp. 49-50) in our handbook, we learn that history is meaningless to Origen. For is that not what allegory, a la Pilgrim's Progress, isahistorical? Strange again, for the third time! This Alexandrian who labors over the historical accuracy of the Word of Godeven becomes the early church's premier textual critic in order to establish the history of the original textallegedly dissolves all real meaning in Scripture to "allegory."12 A real historical student of a real historical Savior abandons real historical identification for "allegory". Surely, this is a fundamental misreading of the Scripture and of Origen.
In fact, we have here the application of critical-fundamentalist canons to Origen's hermeneutics. The proper reading of the Bible, according to enlightened critics, is to find no supernatural meaning in it, to reduce it to the religious philosophy/ideas/feelings of the Jews or Christians and to deconstruct it in the image of modern and post-modern man. On the contrary, "allegory" is Origen's way of understanding what F.F. Bruce labeled 'this is that' or what Herman Ridderbos categorized as 'promise/fulfillment'. In other words, any New Testament writer indicating the meaning of an Old Testament text is as guilty of "allegory" as Origen. No modern Biblical critic will allow this. The text of the Bible has no other meaning than the bare letter contextualized to its time (and that era only as reconstructed by modern scientific/philosophical methods). This asinine and arrogant elitism infects even those who read the Fathers. Any "higher sense" or "spiritual meaning" or "Christian (i.e., "in Christ") identification" is anathema. Thus the caricaturesallegorizing, pre-
A very slight shift from the rationalistic approach to Origen and the Fathers is beginning to reveal the crack in this (hermeneutical) monolith. We can only encourage the widening of the crack and the collapse of the edifice so that an accurate reading of the hermeneutics of the Fathers may rise from the rubble. That day may be approaching.13 Scholars are actually reading Origen's Biblical materials (at last!), not imposing their philosophical agendas upon him. Our article has not graduated to that liberation as yet, but it evidences some discomfort with the traditional analysis of Origen's hermeneutic. Note, the church has "an historical link to ancient Israel;" but perhaps this too is merely "allegory" as per the initial article in our handbook.
What our article overlooks and omits is Origen's Christocentric exegesis and interpretation.14 This alone would be grounds for Origen saying to our author, "You have not even begun to understand how I thinkhow I interpret divine revelation! For me, all divine revelation brings me to Christ Jesus, my Savior."
And there is the rub. Few modern scholars believe in revelationthat God in heaven actually speaks from his eternal mind and arena into time and space history. The Kantian revolution has made such a pre-critical presupposition unenlightened, turned on its head by autonomous subjectivism, i.e., 'revelation' is an 'inner human phenomenon', not an objective from-without phenomenon. But praise God, Origen was born before 1784. He believed in supernatural revelation, an objective communication from God himself to the creature, manifest in time and space but drawing the recipient/the hearer into the spiritual dimension of the mind and heart of God. This is the reason his
14 "[T]he things delivered through Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself [have] been set in true gold and in solid silver. For this likeness of gold with silver inlays, made by the friends of the Bridegroom [S.S 1:11-12], is not permitted to last for ever; its time is fixed for it by the speakers themselves as being 'till the King recline at His table.' For when He has laid Him down and slept 'as a lion and as a lion's whelp,' and afterwards the Father has aroused Him, and He has risen from the dead, if then there be such as have been made conformable to His resurrection, they will continue no longer in the likeness of gold, that is, in the pursuit of bodily things, but will receive true gold from Him. For what they seek and hope for is not things visible, but things invisible; not things on earth, but things in heaven where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God" (ACW 26:155).
How Origen must yearn for the day when modern scholars will read his biblical materials unshackled by the rationalistic methodology that has blinded theological studies from the late 17th century to the present. The 'scientific method' makes all the Biblical writers as well as the church Fathers little Kantians, Hegelians, Bultmannians, whateverians. Origen demands/deserves to be read without modernist, anti-supernatural, anti-revelational presuppositions.
Finally, Origen's doctrine of the Trinity has been controverted since Athanasius championed his formulation against the Arians. Modern scholars (especially R.P.C. Hanson) have continued the controversy. Our handbook's article on the issue is keenly aware of the advocacy for Origen by pro-Nicene and anti-Nicene elements in the history of the church. But our article leaves Origen in more of a muddle than Origen himself leaves us.
There is one God, not three gods or many gods, according to Origen. There are three persons in this one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Origen labels these three persons hypostases ("we consider therefore that there are three hypostases, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit," Commentary on John, 2.6; ANF 10:328). Later orthodoxy will equate persona ("person") with hypostasis; Origen anticipates that equation. The Son of God is as eternal as the Father (and the Holy Spirit): "never at any time non-existent" (De Principiis 1.2.9; ANF 4:249).15 Co-eternality means deity: "he remains always ("at
17 Latin translation by this author from the citation in M.J. Edwards, "Did Origen Apply the Word Homoousios to the Son?" JTS 49/2 (October 1998): 639.
Approaching death, I find at last,
holds not for me that mortal wound that others fear.
Christ's call, "To Life!",
bids me in hope soar swiftly through death's sting,
its shadowed gloom unveiled.
I've trusted Him in life,
and now in death to Christ, and Christ Alone, I yield.
My eager soul draws nigh to Him Who calls Eternity
His love so hewn from cross to tomb
in vict'ry burst those deathy gates to Life!
In triumph then, Christ slipped earth's realm to reign on High
where He now waits for me
No earthly tie that binds can hold my soul,
O'er death His Living Word abides
Christ shouts His Victor's cry
Picture yourself in a classroom as a New Testament professor, standing in the higher critical tradition, enters the room and states, "The four Gospels contradict each other with respect to the passion narratives. Hence, what can be truly believed concerning Christ's final path to the cross?" For example, Mark 14:26-31 and Luke 22:31-34 record a similar incident, and yet, they read quite differently. In fact, for those who stress that the narratives are contradictory, they will point out quickly that Mark's scene is at the Mount of Olives (14:26), whereas Luke's scene is at the Last Supper (22:31). Furthermore, Mark presents the picture that all the disciples will fall away (14:27),
A Biblical and Reformed view of Scripture is committed to the internal testimony of Scripture. This loyalty is based on a number of justified principles, but I believe that it is sufficient to employ two of those principles for our purposes: 1) the internal claim of Scripture's own inspiration; and 2) Scripture interpreting Scripture.2 Ironically, the same Peter who appears in both narratives of our texts provides our starting point for the internal testimony of Scripture (2 Peter 1:19-21). By means of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Peter denotes how the divine inspiration of Scripture takes place; no Scripture ever had its origin in the subjective will of man (2 Peter 1:20-21). Rather, men who wrote the Bible were moved, or carried along, or brought forth (pheromenoi) by the Holy Spirit. In the final analysis, the origin of Scripture is solely in God; the Holy Spirit is Scripture's ultimate author. Such an understanding of Scripture does not diminish the fact that God used human authors to pen his
Obviously within the scope of the Biblical canon, the four gospels are one of the best examples of the Holy Spirit's use of distinct personalities. Each gospel has its origin in God, and yet, as the Holy Spirit works with the unique personality of each author, the church is given a fresh and vivid look at Christ's life. For our purpose, we can say that both Mark and Luke are moved directly by the Holy Spirittheir gospels are the product of God's breath (2 Tim. 3:16). As each author receives the internal inspiration of God, an exceptional picture of the life of Christ emerges from their pages that uniquely reflects their own personality. As we take a limited glance at their respective passion narratives, these pictures will become our focus. Meanwhile, let us move to our second point concerning the internal testimony of Scripture: Scripture interprets Scripture.
As we investigate Mark 14:26-31 and Luke 22:31-34, the phrase Scripture interpreting Scripture becomes synonymous with Scripture comparing Scripture. If one compares these similar texts (Mark 14:26-31; Luke 22:31-34), then it would seem that both narratives have recorded the same incident. For this reason, many critical scholars view the two texts as contradictory; after all, Mark's discussion takes place at the Mount of Olives, whereas Luke's discussion takes place at the Last Supper. In my judgment, these critical scholars need to take more seriously their own observation, i.e., the different occasions described by each author. Although each text may end on the similar note (the circumstances surrounding Peter's denial), I believe that Mark and Luke are recording different incidents. In fact, Luke's incident comes first in chronological sequence since it occurs at the Last Supper (Luke does not mention the departure to the Mount of Olives until 22:39). At the Last Supper, Christ had been discussing servitude, the pearls of living the gospel, and the importance of being seated at the final feast in his kingdom, when he revealed that he has been praying for Peter and his disciples (Lk. 22:24-34).3 As Christ discloses
The prediction of Peter's denial appears in a different setting in Mark's gospel. At the Mount of Olives, Mark records Christ's prophetic word that each disciple will flee from him. Christ will face death by himself (14:26-31). Given Peter's character, it is believable that he would make the same claim at the Mount of Olives that he made at the Last Supper (Luke's gospel); that is to say, he would refuse to follow the course of the other disciples by deserting Christ, and he would refuse to deny him. In this respect, Mark captures Peter's response to Christ's contention by using the term ekperissos ("vehemently," 14:31). The term ekperissos has the meaning of "protesting emphatically," "strenuously insisting," and "forcefully persisting;" it carries with it the idea of "increase in force and repetition." Obviously, Mark provides a description of Peter's character within the context of his own narrative; after Peter has claimed that he will not fall away and Christ predicts his denial, he becomes persistent (vehement) in his claim that "even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you" (14:31a)! As Mark captures Peter's strenuous response, perhaps Mark has also captured Peter's relentless temperament from the previous confrontation between Peter and Christ at the Last Supper (Luke's account).
Hence, when Scripture interprets Scripture, we maintain the continuity of the Biblical text: Mark and Luke are complementary, not contradictory. In fact, when the settings of both texts are investigated within the flow of their respective narratives, we conclude that each author records a distinct incident, and yet, each incident notes a similar confrontation and response with respect to Peter. In this light, both incidents provide deep spiritual insight into the roles of Christ, Peter, and the disciples as Jesus makes his final journey to the cross.
For Mark, the passion narrative is significant; one must participate
in Christ's journey to the cross as well as his substitutionary death on the cross
if one is going to understand who Jesus is. Specifically, Mark's picture is
As you recall, David's son, Absalom, had conspired to gain the allegiance of Israel against his father. In view of the strength of Absalom's conspiracy, David, some officials, and others fled from Jerusalem. Where did they go? They departed to the Mount of Olives (2 Sam. 15:30). Meanwhile, Ahithophel, one of David's most trusted counselors, joined Absalom and his plot to overtake the throne. As David learned of Ahithophel's betrayal, he decides to infiltrate the inner ranks of Absalom with a true ally and spy, Hushai (15:32-37). When he came to inquire how to terminate David, Absalom consulted both Ahithophel and Hushai. Ironically, by virtue of God's glorious providence, Absalom took the advice of Hushai and rejected the advice of Ahithophel which actually led to Absalom's death (17:5-14; 18:17). When Ahithophel learned that his advice was discarded, he felt unwanted and betrayed by Absalom (17:1-4, 14, 23). At that point, the Bible tells us that Ahithophel saddled his donkey, returned home and hung himself (17:23).
Herein lies a fascinating parallel between the story of David and the life of Christ. Like David, Christ also left the city of Jerusalem to go to the Mount of Olives in view of a plot to capture and kill him (Mk. 14:26). Like David, Christ left with his trusted officials (disciples), except for one. As David was being betrayed by one of his officials at the Mount of Olives, Ahithophel,
Indeed, the Passion Week had begun with crowds, but as Christ celebrates the Last Supper and withdraws to the Mount of Olivesthe desertion of the crowds as well as one of his disciples, Judas, becomes an apparent theme in the narrative. David experienced loneliness in his life as he departed to the Mount of Olives; and likewise Christ experiences loneliness as he withdraws to the Mount of Olives. For Mark's Christ, this theme is solidified in the language that Mark captures between Christ and his disciples at the Mount of Olives (14:27a): "you [disciples] will all fall away (stumble; be offended)." Mark is pressing upon the reader that Christ's path to the cross will be void of any human companionshipChrist will be alone!
As Christ's words fall upon the ears of his remaining disciples, Mark places the prophetic voice of his journey before the reader: "You will all fall away because of me this night, for it is written: 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered'" (14:27). Christ's prophetic word is at stake here. As that word is delivered, one must note that the sovereign, providential hand of God will execute his plan of redemption and justice; God strikes the Shepherd, the true Shepherd of the sheep! The scene is much different here than the picture of the Shepherd leading his flock, or the Shepherd pursuing a stray lamb and bringing him home, or even the picture of the artist who paints the Shepherd carrying a lamb and clutching it to his bosom. To be sure, such pictures do not exist in this narrative. Rather Christ's prophecy states that the Shepherd will be struck by the clear permissive hand of God's providence. Indeed, God's Son, the Shepherd, will be struck by the hand of Israel and Rome. Since all humanity sins and rebels against their Creator and everyone
Even so, one disciple is so brash to make the claim that even if all will fall away, he will not! There is no mystery in the text concerning the identity of this brash disciple: it is Peter (Mk. 14:29). Peter's careless and thoughtless statement brought a clear prophetic response from Christ. During that very night, Peter will deny him three times (14:30). Following Peter's random thoughts, the other disciples attempted to make the same claim that they would not deny Christ (14:31).
At this point, the reader must take careful note of the providential flow of Christ's trial. For Mark, Christ's prophecy concerning Peter and the disciples is crucial to the authentication of Christ's identity and mission. Remember, Christ is accused before the Jewish chief priests and council as being a false prophet. This accusation was one of the most serious allegations made in Judaism (Mk. 14:53-66). If convicted, the punishment was death (Deut. 13:1-5). Although the Jews justified the execution of Christ on this ground, Mark has given careful attention to the fact that Christ is a true prophet, not a false prophet. Christ has spoken his prophetic words: all the disciples will fall away and Peter will deny him three times (14:27-31). As Mark develops his theme of Christ's loneliness, he also invites the reader to assess whether Christ is a true or false prophetwhether his execution on the cross is legal or illegal. In Christ's hour of loneliness, is he a true or false prophet? How do the events in his life shape an answer to that question?
As Christ was arrested in Gethsemane and taken away, Mark clearly
affirms that "everyone deserted him and fled" (14:50).
Christ's prophecy is confirmed as true; as everyone deserts him, he is left
alone! In fact, Mark focuses so strongly upon the prophecy of Christ's loneliness that only his gospel
But wait a second! Perhaps, every disciple will not desert Christ. Could
it be that Jesus is not a true prophet? Could it be that Christ will not be
left alone? Could Peter prove Christ wrong? Not at all; the
prophetic word of Christ is true. Peter deserts Christ as well; he denies him three times just
as Christ predicted (14:66-72). Indeed, Mark's narrative makes the case that
the chief priests and the council have demanded the execution of a true
prophet, not a false prophet. For this reason the reader is called to participate in
the prophetic voice of Christ and his lonely path to the cross in order to
comprehend the purchase of redemption for his church. In fact, Mark pictures
no consolation for Jesus as he is crucified upon the cross. Specifically, first
Mark directs our attention to those crucified with him as they "heaped insults
upon him" (15:32; his theological perspective chooses not to mention the thief
on cross who becomes savedLuke's gospel). Second, Mark states that the
women watched the crucifixion from a "distance" (15:40; his theological
perspective chooses not to mention when some of the women and John will move
nearer to the crossJohn's gospel). Third, Mark records, along with Matthew's
gospel, the forsaken relationship between the Father and the Son on the
cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (15:34; cf. Mt.
27:46). Through the Holy Spirit, Mark's narrative has spoken; Christ is
absolutely alone for the sake of saving his people. In fact, as Mark's narrative invites
you to participate in Christ's death, you are to be overwhelmed with the fact
that Christ alone saves the sinner! Hence as Mark presents his picture of the
gospel of sovereign grace, he chooses to highlight the dialogue and
circumstances surrounding Christ's final hours accenting the fact that Christ alone is
the means of salvation. Indeed, the Holy Spirit communicates through Mark
If the Holy Spirit invokes in Mark the picture of Christ's loneliness for our redemption, then what picture does the Holy Spirit invoke in Luke? Let me suggest that Luke's passion narrative focuses upon the compassion of Christ! In other words, the Holy Spirit compels the church not only to embrace the Christ who suffered alone for his people (Mark's gospel), but we must also embrace the compassionate Redeemerthe Christ who continues the work of redeeming his church as he went to the cross (Luke's gospel). For example, Luke alone has the following events of compassion in his passion narrative: 1) Christ heals the servant of the high priest's ear which had been cut off during his arrest (22:51); 2) Pilate and Herod become friends while dealing with Christ's sentence when previously they were adversaries (23:12); 3) Christ prays for those who executed him (23:34); and 4) Christ redeems the thief on the cross (23:43). In each incident Luke captures Christ's continuing work of compassion while he endures the hardest hours of trial. In these final hours, Christ does not focus upon himself but upon othershe lives what it means to be a servant. In fact, our passage (Luke 22:31-34), appears in the context of Christ discussing with his disciples the meaning of being a servant in the situation of trial (22:24-30). The setting is the Last Supper. On the basis of comments delivered by Christ, the disciples wonder who will betray Christ, which in turn, projects them into an argument about which one is the greatest (22:22-24). As they are infatuated by their own self-image and status, Christ attacks their position of pride by saying that whoever sees himself as the greatest needs to assume the position of the youngest and act as a servant to all. Herein Christ is such an example (22:25-27).
Meanwhile, as the disciples are obsessed with their own position of
prominence, Christ declares that they will participate in his hour of trial. In this
trial, their position of self-proclaimed fametheir temporal world of the
fleshhas no meaning! Rather the issue is perseverance; their focus needs to
be upon their presence at the eschatological feast of the Lamb in his eternal
How should we understand Satan's request for Peter and the disciples? Luke uses the Greek word which has the literal meaning "desired to have." Satan has confronted Christ as the one who "desires to have" Peter and the disciples for his own possession. Satan claims this trial; in his arrogance, he asks to sift them as wheat. As the Evil One makes this request as Christ's great adversary, he wishes that Peter and the disciples would give their allegiance to him; he desires to take away all who rightfully belong to Christ. Although the disciples were to advance with their Master in this hour of trial, mystery and fear brought caution and hesitation. Indeed, the disciples will not only be attacked by Satan, but they will almost surrender to Satan's cause. Where is hope to be anchored for these followers of Christ?
Draw your attention to the distinct contrast between
Satan's claim and Christ's
prayer (22:31-32). Satan has deposited "his request," "his
claim," and "his desire to have" Peter and his fellow disciples; he has "asked
excessively" for them. In contrast to Satan's abrasive plot, Jesus is
praying efficaciously for the perseverance of Peter and his fellow companions! Even so,
as their priestly Mediator delivers his prayer, he knows that they must
endure this trial. In fact, for a short time, Christ maintains that he will give the
disciples into the hands of the tempter (cf. Mt. 26:31). When Christ is
arrested, he even remarks that this is "the hour" of his enemies and "the power of
darkness" (Lk. 22:53). Hence as Christ surrenders to those who arrest him
Mark focused on the loneliness of Christ in his final hours (disciples scatter); Luke focused upon the redemption and compassion of Christ for the preservation of his kingdom and his church! Luke's language is straightforward concerning Christ's prayer for Peter. He prays that Peter's faith will not fail and at the same time he assures Peter that his faith will not fail when he states, "and when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers" (22:32c). Jesus already knows that his prayer is effectual; he already knows that Peter will repent. In fact, it is astounding that only in Luke's gospel do we read that Christ causes Peter's repentance! Oh yes, Peter was so brash to claim that he was ready for prison and death. But Jesus told him that he was not readythat before the rooster crows, Peter will deny him three times (22:34). In the depth of Peter's denial, in the depth of Peter's "hour of darkness," and in the depth of Peter's iniquity and his seduction by Satan, who is there securing the redeeming effects of his own prayer? It is Jesus! Note the astounding statement found only in Luke's gospel after Peter's denial and the rooster crowed: "The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: 'Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.' And he went outside and wept bitterly" (22:61-62). Christ's penetrating and piercing gaze into the eyes of Peter brings forth the fruits of repentance! Luke's narrative is gripping. As Christ's eyes intercept Peter's eyes, Christ secures his own prayer of restoration which he offered for Peter earlier. In the hour of Christ's own deepest trial, we do not find him focusing upon himself. Rather, we see the true Servant at work; our Mediator and compassionate Savior is busy securing the redemption of Peter and the disciples in their hour of trial. In this way, Christ secures their seat at the eschatological feast as they bask in his glorious salvation!
A further observation should be made, however, about Luke's
narrative. In order to capture the full impact of Christ's effectual prayer, let us return
Indeed the prayer of our Mediator prevails against Satan and the gates of Hell (cf. Mt. 16:18). As Christ reveals his prayer at the Last Supper on behalf of Peter and his disciples, Christ assures them of their attendance at the final eschatological feast. It is assured because whatsoever Christ prays for surely comes to pass! Peter and the others will be preserved in the confession, "Jesus is the Christ of God" (Lk. 9:20b)!
Through Mark and Luke, the Holy Spirit has enriched the Church's
understanding of our Savior's path to the cross. In the single story of
gospel redemption, we have two pictures. For Mark, Christ's path of humiliation
and suffering is one that he alone can take. In fact, Mark's narrative records
exactly how abandoned our Savior was. In conformity to the prophetic voice
of Christ, Peter and the disciples deserted Christ as he followed the journey
to crucifixion. On the other hand, for Luke Christ's compassion and direct
intercession into the lives of others continues as he faces the agony of the
The complementary structure of both gospels needs one further observation. As I have focused upon the prophetic voice of Christ with respect to the desertion of Peter and the disciples in Mark's gospel, there remains in the narrative another prophetic statement offered by Christ. In Mark 14:28, Christ states, "But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you into Galilee." As Christ predicts that he will go to the cross alone, he also predicts that he will be reunited to the disciples by virtue of his resurrection. As Mark's gospel ends, it closes on this exact notethe resurrected Christ going ahead of his disciples into Galilee (16:7). Christ is a true prophet! Indeed, Mark's narrative embraces both humiliation and exaltation; Christ's path to the cross is humiliation, but the end is exaltation through his resurrection. In Christ's prophecy of ultimate humiliation comes Christ's prophecy of the victorious conception of his church. As you can see, in light of the disciples's desertion, Mark's narrative includes their restoration as well. Once again Mark and Luke are complementary: Mark shows us that Christ secures the eschatological end of the disciples through his prophetic voice (Christ's resurrection), whereas Luke shows that Christ secures the eschatological end of the disciples through prayer (final feast in Christ's kingdom). Christ is our Prophet and our Priest!
Lookout Mountain, Georgia
The second chapter of 2 Samuel begins a new cycle of stories in this book. Saul, the first king of Israel, is dead. He, along with his son Jonathan and two other sons, died in battle at the end of 1 Samuel 31. In 2 Samuel 1, David wrote a lament for King Saul and his son Jonathana lament which concludes their presence in the Samuel narrative.
Hence in 2 Samuel 2, a new cycle of stories begins. A cycle of stories and events that will eventually take us to the enthronement of David as king of all Israel (2 Samuel 5)! And our text marks the beginning of that ascension to the throne.
2 Samuel 2:1-11 is divided into three parts. The key words for you to see in this threefold division are the words king David paired with the phrase house of Judah.
The first section (verses 1-4a) concludes with the words: "David
king over the house of Judah." The second section is verses 4b-7 which
concludes with the words: "The house of Judah has anointed me king over them."
The third section is verses 8-11 and it concludes with the length of time that
David was king over the house of Judah. Each section ends by including in
some form the words: "king over the house of Judah." Thus in the first eleven
How did David become king over the house of Judah? That is the story of the first section of our text (verses 1-4a). King Saul is dead. At the beginning of chapter 2, David is still in Ziklag, the Philistine city where he had gone when Saul was trying to kill him. And the first thing he does in verse 1 is inquire of the Lord, "Shall I go up to one of the towns of Judah?" And the Lord answers that he should "go up." But in the latter part of verse 1, God not only directs him to Judah, but he directs him to a specific place in Judahto the town of Hebron, a place of covenant significance for Israel. It is the place where Abraham was told by the angels that he would have a son named Isaac (Gen. 18:1). It is the place where Abraham and Sarah are buried (Gen. 23:19). This is the place where God tells David to go; to connect David with the religious significance of the patriarchs before him.
In verses 2-3, David goes to Hebron with his two wives and his men. In verse 4, the men of Hebron and Judah come out and anoint David king over the house of Judah. Thus the first section concludes with David as king of the Southland of Israel.
Now let's skip to the third section of our text, beginning with verse 8. While David is king in Judah, look at what is going on in the other part of the land. Abner, son of Ner, Saul's cousin and the commander of Saul's army, took Ish-Bosheth son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. The name Ish-Bosheth means "man of shame." All of Saul's sons were killed in battle in 1 Samuel 31 except for Ish-Bosheth. The Bible does not tell us why Ish-Bosheth was not fighting the Philistines with his brothers. All we know is that his name means "man of shame" and after his father's death, Abner set him up as a puppet king of Israel.
Now contrast the first section of our text from the third section. It
begins with David consulting the Lord in verse 1. Abner does not consult the Lord
in verse 8. Instead, Abner is the power broker in our passage. Abner took
Ish-Bosheth and brought him over to Mahanaim and he made him king over
Gilead, Asher, and Jezreel and over Ephriam, Benjamin and all Israel (v. 9). David
is king of the South, and Abner made Ish-Bosheth king of the northeast and
The author of our text is setting up the next cycle in the life of King David and the rest of chapter 2. David is currently king of Judah. He is currently in the process of ascending to the throne of all Israel. And with one of Saul's sons still alive, there are two armies headed for war; a war between the house of David and the house of Saul. In chapters 2-5, the author tells us of all the manipulation, deception and murder that will take place between both of these houses in their striving for power. And power always corrupts. What will David do? David has had ample opportunity to take hold of this kingdom on his own. In 1 Samuel 24, King Saul, in order to relieve himself, went into the cave in which David was hiding. David's men urged him to strike down the king and seize the kingdom, but David would not do it. In 2 Samuel 26, he found Saul sleeping out in the open with his spear at his side, and again David's men urged him to strike. But David did not do it. And so the question that our text puts before us is what role will David play in the next few chapters as he ascends to the throne? Do you see how the author is setting you up?
This is where part 2 comes in. In verses 4b-5 when David was told that it was the men of Jabesh Gilead who had buried Saul, he sent messengers to the men of Jabesh Gilead. The men of Jabesh Gilead were covenantally loyal to Saul because in 1 Samuel 11 Saul had organized an army of men and rescued them from the Ammonites. And now forty years later across the Jordan river they are still covenantally loyal to Saul. They risk their lives in 1 Samuel 31 to bury King Saul. David blesses them in the name of the Lord because of their covenant faithfulness to Saul in life and in death and he tells them, "May the Lord now show you kindness and faithfulness" (v. 6). David uses the same Hebrew word hesed in both verses, which clearly reflects that it is his hope that the Lord will show them the same covenant faithfulness in life and in death that they have shown to King Saul in life and in death. David then concludes in verse 6 with his own promise: "and I too will show you the same favor because you have done this." In other words, David is saying to them that the same hesed covenant kindness that comes from God in life and in death, he too will show to them.
As our text begins this cycle of stories filled with manipulation, deception and murder, King David rises above it all. He sends a message to those loyal to Saul, thanking them for their covenant kindness and faithfulness to their former master, and asking that the Lord show them the same covenant kindness. He then promises them that he will show them that same covenant kindness. In verse 7, David tells them to "be strong and brave for Saul your master is dead." David is acknowledging that he is not their master but Saul's house is. David states that "the house of Judah has anointed me king over them." David is not an Abner. He does not make himself their king. An earthly king would have sent a message to the people of Jabesh Gilead that they should either follow him or be killed. "David is king of Judah! He is in charge now! Choose this day whom you shall serve, Ish-Bosheth or me!" That is the kind of situation that Abner wants to set up. But through it all David trusts in God's plan. David trusts in God's timing. He trusts that God in his good providence will give him the kingdom. And David's faith helps him know that he does not have to play this game of manipulation, deception and murder. That is why God uses the Hebrew word hesed to describe David's words to the people of Jabesh Gilead. Through the next few chapters as all of this develops, David rises above it. He does not fall into the trap. He allows God in his good time to bring about his ascension to the throne. And he keeps the promise of showing covenant faithfulness to the people of Israeleven those who are faithful to Saul.
The passage before us is the beautiful story of the man after God's own heart that does everything right before the Lord. When, in an effort to gain power, manipulation, deception and murder are ever present around him, David rises above it. He trusts in the Lord and patiently waits for God to work things out. David remains faithful to God and shows the covenant faithfulness of God to the covenant people under his care. But it is also a text which foreshadows the end of David's reignwhen power will corrupt him like all the others, when he takes the wife of one of those under his covenant care and has her husband murdered. It foreshadows a time when David will become a manipulator, a deceiver and a murderer in a quest to hold on to power. As a consequence, he too will flee to Mahanaim.
In the text before us, we have a picture of a king that does
everything right. But it also foreshadows everything that David did wrong. David is
a great king of God's people, but he is not the savior. The David at the
beginning of the story is not the David at the end. Even this story of King
David reminds us that he is not God's answer. God would someday send one
greater than David, David's greater son. And he too would come down to this
earth and be surrounded by games of manipulation, deception, and murderall
in a quest for power. When the Pharisees saw all the people that were
Jesus could have called ten thousand angels, but instead he died on the cross for you and me. Jesus rose above the manipulation, deception, and murder all around him. He trusted God's plan. He trusted perfectly in his Father's sovereignty. He would demonstrate the perfect covenant faithfulness to his people in life and in deathall the way to his own death on the cross. This Son of David now sits in the throne room of the heavens and because of what he has accomplished, he shows his covenant faithfulness to you. And just as David said to the people of Jabesh Gilead, so too covenant faithfulness from God comes to you through the Son of David. He is not just king of Judah or Israel; but he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He sits enthroned in heaven on high because he has risen above sin and death and murder and has conquered all things. And you live for him and serve him faithfully without ever having to worry whether the Jesus at the beginning of the story will be the same at the end of the story. He has and always will be faithful to you in life or in death. The covenant faithfulness of God shines from God through him to you. When you pray to him, you can know that he will always be faithful, and that he will always be there for you, so that his love will shine through you to others.
We live in a world of manipulation, deception, and murder. You cannot fly on an airplane anymore without wondering what might happen. You can't invest your money anymore without wondering what might happen. In many cases you can't go to church anymore without wondering what might happen. But you can be thankful that you have a covenantally faithful God and Savior who will always be the same forevermore.
Sovereign Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Oak Harbor, Washington
"[T]he Apostle says, 'for those who have their senses exercised to the discerning of good and evil' (Heb. 5:14), Christ becomes each of these things in turn, to suit the several senses of the soul. He is called true Light, therefore, so that the soul's eyes may have something to lighten them. He is the Word, so that her ears may have something to hear. Again, He is the Bread of life, so that the soul's palate may have something to taste. And in the same way, He is called the spikenard or ointment, that the soul's sense of smell may apprehend the fragrance of the Word. For the same reason He is said also to be felt and handled, and is called the Word made flesh, so that the hand of the . . . soul may touch concerning the Word of life."
Charles H. H. Scobie, The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003. 1,038 pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-8028-4950-4. $45.00.
In "Whither Biblical Theology?", the introduction to his 1991 book, The Promise and Practice of Biblical Theology, John Reumann stated that a paradigm shift was occurring in biblical studies from the "historical" era to the "literary" era. Reumann argued that the paradigm shift was occurring due to a duel source: (1) a general dissatisfaction with the method and results of historical criticism; and (2) a new emphasis on canonical criticism (following B. S. Childs) that stresses each finished book in the Bible in its "intertextuality" with all others in the agreed canon. In Reumann's opinion, biblical theology's future depends on making this transition.
Now, over a decade later, a major book on biblical theology has appeared in line with Reumann's contention, Charles H. H. Scobie's The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology. Scobie, Cowan Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada, expresses, on the one hand, extreme dissatisfaction with the method and results of historical criticism (although he refuses to abandon the method); and, on the other hand, a positive future for biblical theology if guided by canonical theology. Like Reumann, Scobie believes that the future of biblical theology rests with these advancements.
Scobie states that he wrote the book in seeking to resolve a conflict
that had haunted him throughout his entire academic career. That conflict was
Scobie realizes, however, that in appealing to biblical theology, many different opinions exist as to what biblical theology is. Scobie reaffirms J. L. McKenzie's contention that biblical theology is the only discipline or sub-discipline in the field of theology that lacks generally accepted principles, methods, structure, purpose and scope. Scobie's goal, therefore, is to present a biblical theology that embraces principles, methods, structure, purpose and scope that can be accepted by both scholars and pastors alike.
Scobie's starting place in trying to put together a cohesive biblical theology is Child's canonical approach to biblical theology. He declares, "It is a central contention of the approach adopted here that biblical theology is canonical theology" (49). Scobie readily acknowledges his dependence upon Childs and canonical theology, but he also sees himself as improving upon Childs. According to Scobie, James Barr is correct when he states that one of the disappointments of Child's work is his failure to tackle the key question of the appropriate structure for biblical theology (82). Lest this criticism of Childs apply to him, Scobie takes great pains to make sure that he does not fail in addressing this key question. Consequently, Scobie recommends an "intermediate biblical theology" which seeks to be both descriptive and normative in contrast to the descriptive only "independent biblical theology" which has dominated biblical studies since the days of Wilhelm Wrede (21).
Scobie believes this is the source of the tension in which he finds
himself, i.e., the inadequate conception of biblical theology as an
independent discipline. The standard understanding has been that biblical theology is an
academic discipline pursued in complete independence from the church.
Scobie cites Krister Stendahl's influential 1960
Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible
In the place of an independent biblical theology, Scobie substitutes an approach that he believes does not disparage the historical study of Scriptureaware of the limitations of the historical-critical approach that seeks to go beyond it to a new understanding of biblical theology appropriate to a post-critical age (7). Such a biblical theology does not exist independently from the life of the church. He labels his approach, then, "intermediate biblical theology" for it is seen as a bridge discipline standing between the historical study of the Bible and the use of the Bible as authoritative Scripture by the church (8). He writes:
There can be no return to the situation of an integrated biblical theology that existed before the rise of the modern historical approach. Yet the pursuit of a totally independent biblical theology has led to an impasse. What does hold promise is an approach that sees biblical theology as a bridge discipline, situated between the historical study of Scripture on the one hand and its use by the church in its faith and life on the other. This may be termed an "intermediate biblical theology" (46).
Scobie argues that when one works from an intermediate biblical theology grid, one can accept and build on the historical study of Scripture ascertaining what the text "meant," but not to the detriment of what the Bible "means" today. Put simply, an intermediate biblical theology allows one to be concerned both with what the Bible 'meant' (the pursuit of historical investigation) and what it 'means' (the faith dimension in the life of the church) as a canonical whole. Biblical theology, then, is not merely "history," which is descriptive; it is also "theology," which is normative (48).
Scobie argues, however, that historical criticism is flawed in claiming for itself the status of an objective discipline which is able to maintain neutrality in its examination. Contrary to its claims of objectivity, the historical-critical method is not unbiased, nor is it neutral in approaching the Bible. Scobie writes, "The modern critical approach simply rules out any presence of God in either nature or history; to capitulate to such a presupposition is to undercut the very basis of the claims made by Scripture" (37). Positively quoting Walter Wink, Scobie also asserts that historical-critical methodology promotes the suspension of evaluative judgments and participational involvement in the "object" of research. The presuppositions of the historical-critical method, then, mandate the elimination of questions of faith from the outset, since they can only be answered participatively, in terms of a lived response (32).
Consequently, Scobie concludes that the historical-critical method has not lived up to its billing the last two hundred years. Yet, despite showing the biases, errors and weaknesses of historical-criticism, he does not seek to turn back the clock to a pre-critical time. He writes, "The approach advocated here is not one that disparages the historical study of Scripture. It does not seek to turn the clock back to a precritical age" (7). Scobie believes that his intermediate biblical theology has the ability to correct the errors of historical criticism without abandoning what he deems to be its necessary function.
Scobie further asserts that his "intermediate biblical theology"
presupposes the belief that the Bible conveys a divine revelation, that the word
of God in Scripture constitutes the norm of Christian faith and life, and that
all the varied material of the testaments can in some way be related to the
plan and purpose of the one God of the whole Bible (47). In this way,
"intermediate biblical theology" flows out of canonical theology. This approach,
From this foundation in Part One of his book, "Prolegomena to a Biblical Theology," Scobie puts forth his grid for doing biblical theology. He writes:
The structure that is proposed here is one in which the major themes of Old Testament and New Testament are correlated with each other. Minor themes are then grouped around the major ones. Extensive study of key biblical themes again and again reveals a common pattern in the way these themes are developed within Scripture (91).
The common pattern that Scobie sees arising from Scripture is that of Old Testament proclamation and promise and New Testament fulfillment and consummation. The basic grid he employs connects the two testaments in an admirable way. There is a tension in the Old Testament between proclamation and promise of an already (proclamation), not yet (promise) character. Old Testament promise then unites with New Testament fulfillment. The tension that exists in the Old Testament between proclamation and promise anticipates the New Testament tension between fulfillment and consummation. The New Testament does not rest content with the already (fulfillment), but always pushes forward to the not yet (consummation).
Scobie argues that identifying and tracing important biblical themes following this scheme of Old Testament proclamation and promise and New Testament fulfillment and consummation offers the most promise and the least risk of distorting the biblical material. The four major themes that Scobie runs through this grid are "God's order," "God's servant," "God's people," and "God's way."
In putting forth the major theme of "God's servant," Scobie argues that the Old Testament promises the coming of a new servant, the true mediator between God and his people that would take the place of the imperfect servants of the old order. The New Testament proclaims the fulfillment of the promise as Christ is the new servant who both fulfills and transcends all forms of expectation. This servant, God incarnate, faces suffering and death on behalf of his people, but at the consummation will come in power and glory (96).
Concerning the major theme of "God's people," Scobie maintains that in the Old Testament God chose a particular people to be his servant people. The Old Testament authors, however, were aware of the failings of God's people, and held out the promise of a time when God's people would be renewed, resurrected, and reconstituted. The New Testament sees the fulfillment of the promises concerning God's people in the new covenant community brought about through the Christ-event. This community, although blessed, is also imperfect and will be truly constituted only at the consummation (97).
The last major theme, "God's way", concerns the life of the people of God. The Old Testament proclaims that God has offered a lifestyle which leads to blessing and life for Israel. Israel's sin, however, leads to the promise of a new life. This promise of new life is fulfilled in the New Testament in the life of Jesus. Believers share in this new life, although it will be experienced in its fullness only at the consummation.
"God's Order": (1) The Living God; (2) The Lord of Creation; (3) The Lord of History; (4) The Adversary; (5) The Spirit
"God's Servant": (6) The Messiah; (7) The Son of Man; (8) Glory, Word, Wisdom, Son; (9) The Servant's Suffering; (10) The Servant's Vindication
"God's People": (11) The Covenant Community; (12) The Nations; (13) Land and City; (14) Worship; (15) Ministry;
"God's Way": (16) The Human Condition; (17) Faith and Hope; (18) God's Commandments; (19) Love Your Neighbor; (20) Life
Each sub-theme in turn contains numerous topics that Scobie addresses. At the end of the book, he provides a detailed one-page outline of the break down of the twenty sub-themes. This gives the reader in one place the structure of chapters that range from 25 pages ("The Servant's Vindication") to 81 pages ("Love Your Neighbor"). He provides with each entry what he believes are the best definitions and options. Numerous scholars are quoted and an extensive bibliography is provided. The last 110 pages of the book consist of outlines, bibliographies, and indices.
In many ways, Scobie's book supplements Childs's 1970 volume
Biblical Theology in Crisis and 1992 volume
Biblical Theology of the Old and New
Testaments. Scobie hails the latter book as the most significant book on
biblical theology of the twentieth century (45). He follows Childs's assertion
that the main goal of biblical theology is to hear the two different voices of the
Old Testament and New Testament in their canonical integrity. Copying
Childs, Scobie maintains that biblical theology can do justice both to the Old
Testament and hold that, in the context of the canon, the New Testament is
its continuation and fulfillment (60). Like Childs, he attempts to mediate
Throughout the book, then, it appears that Scobie wants to keep one foot in the academic world, which demands the retention of the historical-critical method, and keep one foot in the community of faith, which demands the retention of a faith dimension. In trying to maintain a place in both worlds, Scobie is forced to redefine the traditional definition of "historical criticism." He first attacks the view that historical criticism is an objective, neutral discipline. He then uses the term "historical critical" in a broad sense that Reformed biblical theologians would call "questions of introduction." For instance, he writes, "A historical critical approach demands that the OT be translated and studied on the basis of the original Hebrew text" (72). He also writes, "Historical-critical study of the Bible still has an important role to play (cf. above, C-1.3). The books of the Bible must be interpreted in the first instance against their historical background; questions of authorship, date, destination, purpose, and so on must be based on painstaking exegesis that aims to understand the meaning of the text in its original setting" (46). But, at the same time that Scobie affirms such a commitment, he steadfastly maintains that biblical scholarship cannot return to pre-critical days. He declares, "The call is not for a return to a pre-critical position, but rather for the seeking out of a new, post-critical position" (32).
In reading the book, this tension between trying to maintain a place
in both worlds never goes away. Consequently, Scobie's proposal for
biblical theology, which is helpful at points, does not achieve the goal that he
projects. Unless Scobie becomes truly radical and puts away historical-criticism in
totality, he cannot put forth a true biblical theology because his solution is
not radical enough. The great methodological weakness of the book is also
the great ironyby not abandoning historical-criticism as a false
methodology, Scobie reaffirms the gap between the "study" and the "pulpit". His belief
that there is the existence of the gap which must be overcome indicates that
Scobie's overhaul of historical criticism is incomplete. The result is that
Scobiedespite his loud protests to the contraryviolates one of the cardinal
Scobie writes the book because of the "gap" that he believes exists between historical study (what the text "meant") and the "pulpit" (what the text "means"). Scobie admits in pre-critical times that there was no clear distinction drawn between the teaching of the Bible and the teaching of the church. "It is true that no sharp distinction was drawn between the teaching of the Bible and the teaching of the church; the one was largely integrated with the other" (7). The study of the Scripture was not at odds with the teaching of the church. Faith was connected with a real historical event. But a return to this view is deemed not an option. Scobie writes, "There can be no return to the situation of an integrated biblical theology that existed before the rise of the modern historical approach" (46). Why not? Historical investigation of the text took pace in the church prior to the last two hundred years, and it was not at odds with theological instruction, catechetical instruction and preaching. Scobie's acceptance of the critical viewpoint, despite every statement that he makes to the contrary, creates the tension that he seeks to resolve in the writing of the book.
What is so frustrating is that Scobie hints at this himself. He approvingly cites Temper Longman when Longman maintains that literary analysis of historical books is not incompatible with a high view of the historicity of the text (37). He writes, "The modern critical approach simply rules out any presence of God in either nature or history; to capitulate to such a presupposition is to undercut the very basis of the claims made by Scripture" (37). At the same time, he writes "in biblical studies any total abandonment of a historical-critical approach would be a major disaster that would cast the interpreter adrift on a sea of subjectivity" (33).
Scobie's reasoning, however, fails to take into account the fact that
theology is rooted in revelation. The Bible is revelational history. History is
the creation of God; it is not the enemy of God. The believer's philosophy
of history should match what Christ, in Scripture, has said about the past,
the present, and the future. As long as Scobie allows the philosophical to
precede the historical, a tension is created. The end result is that Scobie falls
directly into line behind Childsboth can attack modern theology as being
Consequently, with Scobie's refusal to abandon historical-criticism mixed with a helpful critique of it, the book ends up alternating between being helpful and disappointing. There is descriptive help in the book on a number of biblical passages and topics. The meticulous way that Scobie deals with each theme and the breadth of scholars cited is impressive. Instead of running though numerous books trying to see which scholar dealt with which issue, one can turn to the appropriate section in Scobie and find immediate references. And, more than that, Scobie identifies which scholars he believes provide the best explanations. Scobie's pattern of Old Testament proclamation/promise and New Testament fulfillment/consummation is also a useful grid. Still, neither Scobie's "intermediate biblical theology" nor his book ever reaches the richness and depth of Geerhardus Vos's Biblical Theology.
Vos, the father of Reformed biblical theology, did not see a tension between an intense preoccupation with the historical nature and diversity of the text and the doctrinal unity of the Bible. In fact, it can be said that Vos spent a lifetime arguing that in the covenant doctrine and life flow into one another. Part of the reason that Scobie sees a divide is that he believes that biblical theology operates out of a school. Vos rightly comprehended that biblical theology operates out of the covenant. In the covenant, there is not a wedge between theology and history.
The contrast in the two starting points of Scobie (school) and Vos (covenant) cannot be underestimated. Being covenantally grounded, Vos was able to work on the diversity of the text without fear that such work would place him in opposition to doctrine. Vos understood that the Scriptures are the written and inspired Word of God, so that the text partakes of theological unity prior to the engagement of an interpreter. The unity of Scripture is grounded in the unity of God whom we confess to be the author.
This understanding of Scripture, which is set forth in the first chapter
of the Westminster Confession of Faith, enabled Vos to labor in the
Vos also did not equivocate on whether biblical theology should retain a position in the world of speculation and the world of faith. Vos rooted biblical theology in the infallible Word of God. The first guiding principle that Vos listed in discussing biblical theology is "the recognition of the infallible character of revelation as essential to every legitimate theological use made of this term" (Biblical Theology, 11). In defending this assertion, Vos wrote, "If God be personal and conscious, then the inference is inevitable that in every mode of self-disclosure he will make a faultless expression of his nature and purpose" (ibid).
Vosian biblical theology, then, stands over against Scobian biblical theology. Despite every claim and shout to the contrary, Scobie's position on Scripture undercuts his biblical theology. Scobie wants to affirm the normative unity of Biblical Theology after refusing to affirm the normative unity of the Bible. He wants it both ways. He wants to work with the finished text without humbling himself to the claims of Scripture concerning itself. If Scobie really wants to scale the wall that the modern theological enterprise has created, he has to do more than just receive the finished text. He needs to affirm, in Vos's words, that Scripture is stamped with divinity on it. Inspiration, inerrancy, trustworthiness, and historical accuracy are not indifferent matters. Vos argues:
"Whenever the New Testament speaks about the inspiration of the Old, it is always in the most absolute, comprehensive terms. Consulting the consciousness of the Scriptures themselves in this matter, we soon learn that it is either 'plenary inspiration' or nothing at all. Further, we have found that revelation is by no means confined to isolated verbal disclosures, but embraces facts. These facts moreover are not of a subordinate character: they constitute the central joints and ligaments of the entire body of redemp-
tive revelation. From them the whole receives its significance and colouring" (Biblical Theology, 13).
The authority of Scripture is ground in the person of God himself. It does not depend for its authority upon any man or institution. Scobie, however, wants to use the Scripture in an authoritative way without acknowledging that it is authoritative. In his canonical approach, he ends up sharing with Childs a position on canon that points to a Roman Catholic understanding of the relationship between church and canon.
Even where Scobie is at his best in pointing out the Old Testament proclamation/promise and New Testament fulfillment/consummation pattern, Vos does better. Vos continually points his readers to the significance of pre-redemptive revelation and the covenant that God makes with man in innocence. Vos believed that the Genesis account teaches, and Paul affirms, that provision was made and probation was instituted for a still higher state, both ethico-religiously and physically complexioned, than was at that time in the possession of man. It is not just with soteric revelationOld Testament proclamation/promise and New Testament fulfillment/consummationthat man is in an "already/not yet estate." In the garden prior to the Fall into sin, man was in such a situation. He was "already" in communion with God, but he was "not yet" in that place of full intercourse on a higher plane. Vos is adamant that the eschatological complex and prospect were there in the purpose of God from the beginning. The eschatological, or supernatural, is the mother soil out of which the tree of the entire soteric enterprise has sprung.
Scobie doesn't even address the issue. Either he deems it unimportant or he is unaware of its significance. The result, regardless of motivation, is a crippling of his work. Without this understanding"that the eschatological principle is so deeply embedded in the structure of the biblical religion as to precede and underlie everything else" (Vos, The Pauline Eschatology, 66)Scobie's teaching often is flat, lacking an eschatological pulse that is consistent with his proper emphasis upon consummation.
Despite the high $45 price, the book is recommended as a resource
for the current state of biblical theology. It is a must in regard to
understanding the transition that has occurred in biblical studies in the past few decades.
Andrew Knowles and Pachomios Penkett, Augustine and His World. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004. 191 pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-8308-2356-5. $14.00.
Of the making of books about Augustine, there is no end. And yet, why not? The great predecessor of Calvin and Old Princeton (yes, we are so bold as to claim him as one of our fathers in the faith, along with Athanasius, Irenaeus, Paul, John, Jesus, etc.) continues to fascinate, intrigue, evade (Arminian Semi-Pelagians still can't get him right!) and transcend the minds of churchmen and churchwomen at the dawn of the 21st century, just as he has done at, during and in the end of every century since his death in 430 A.D. Knowles and Penkett are not Gerald Bonner, Peter Brown or Henry Chadwick. But they have given us Augustine 'lite' or (less complimentarily) Augustine 'for dummies' with lots of picturesin fact, quite lovely pictures. This is a quick study of the North African master, clearly written, lavishly illustrated, reasonably priced and aware of more profound scholarship. It will serve as a ready entrée to great Ambrose's greater catechumen, a platform for more detailed penetration and (perhaps) a refresher course for those who have forgotten what they once learned about this remarkably restless soul whose rest at last laid him on the breast of Jesus, before the face of the Father, sighing with the Spirit of holiness.
We are taken on the familiar tour of our subject's life, beginning with devout Monica's tears (though she displays bizarre traits of her own, p. 30) for her unbaptized child; his licentious career in Carthage (370) where he takes a mistress/concubine, fathers a son (Adeodatus) and lives in a state of open fornication for 15 years (until 385/86). Then in 373 the enchantment with Cicero (the no-longer-extant Hortensius) and the pursuit of philosophy. He moves on to Manicheism (373-82/83) only to be disillusioned with Faustus of Mileve. Abruptly, he surrenders his career as a teacher of rhetoric in Carthage (383) and sails to Rome with his lover and son, but with never a fare thee well to his mother (who subsequently tracks him across the Mediterranean). Then to Ambrose and Milan (384) and to his divine lover through his Son and a heart reborn of the Spirit from above. He dabbles with Neoplatonism and its vacuity: "'What will this wretched man do?' . . . 'Who will deliver him from this body of death' except through your grace through Jesus Christ our Lord . . . None of this is in the Platonic books" (Confessions 7.21.27). On to Cassiciacum and the quest for a synthesis between faith and reason. Back to Milan for his baptism on Easter Sunday, April 25, 387. Down to Ostia where Monica dies and the enforced stay in Italy from Maximus's uprising. At last (388), he sails to Carthage. Then the predestined visit to Hippo (391) where he is called, ordained and made resident. There he wrote against the Manicheans (15 years, 391-406). Elevated Bishop of Hippo (399), he enters the feud with his anti-Donatist writings. Then the great nemesisPelagiusand his great defenderthe even more formidable Julian of Eclanum. The dogged controversies of the end of his life leave him with Confessions, Retractions and the magisterial City of God. With the Arian Vandal invasion across the Straits of Gibraltar (429/30), Hippo is eventually besieged, North Africa is overrun and Augustine succumbs before the denouement.
There is an all-too-brief summary of Augustine's view of salvation and grace (pp. 166-67). As these realities dominate the great Doctor Ecclesiae, in fact form the very center of his by-Christ transformed being/heart, one wonders why these truths are not the Archimedean point around which our authors's analysis of Augustine's thought revolves. Salvation and grace are certainly the point around which Augustine's faith revolveseven as they are for all elect children of Christ Jesus' saving grace.
Our authors are far too cavalier about Augustine's sordid
youthsomething Augustine would not do, as even a cursory reading of the
Confessions reveals. We are told that in sowing his wild oats, young Augustine "would
not be the first" (does that excuse it?), that "he was not the only teenager"
(surely a rationalization to which Augustine never resorts). No, Augustine was a
man of contrition, compunction, conversion. He would be horrified at these
implied excuses for his teenage and adolescent hatred of God, his holiness,
his sweet and wonderful grace. If we are permitted a Freudian (who appears
But the most disturbing aspect of this volume is the undercurrent that Augustine remains a Manichean or a Neoplatonic Plotinian, not primarily a biblical theologian. As Augustine lay dying of fever in Hippo (August 430) with the Vandals at the gates, our authors write, "In the face of such a demolition, he drew deeply from the dispassionate perspective of Plotinus" (p. 157). Now the reader must allow this statement to sink in. At the end of his life, the man who writes the City of God in order to direct the Christian's eye of faith (his own eye of faith) to heaven's everlasting dwelling place is consoled by pagan philosophy. Again, with death at the door, this one who yearns for the God who yearned for him allegedly has recourse to Plotinus. This is nonsense; it is, in fact, irresponsible nonsense. And for this reason alone, not to mention the blemishes above, the book is flawed. Henry Chadwick's short life of Augustine (2001) remains superior, but alas with fewer pictures.
James T. Dennison, Jr.
William Yarchin, History of Biblical Interpretation: A Reader. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004. 444 pp. Cloth. ISBN: 1-56563-720-8. $34.95.
Bill Yarchin is Chairman of the Department of Religion and
Philosophy, Haggard School of Theology, Azusa Pacific University, Azusa, California.
He holds the Ph.D. in Old Testament from Claremont School of
Theology, Claremont, California. His dissertation was entitled: "The Warrior and
the Shepherd: A Composition Analysis of 2 Samuel 21-24" (1993). After
serving as Director of the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center in Claremont (where
he had access to the Dead Sea Scrolls), he took a chair up the road in
1993. Yarchin is a skilled Hebraist as his translations of Qumran (pp. 15-17)
and Rabbinic material (pp. 135-52) attests. His sojourn in Israel (Hebrew
Perhaps even more brilliant is the conception of this handbookto provide the reader with primary documents from the Jewish and Christian traditions so as to reflect the principles of Biblical interpretation from the 2nd century B.C. to the postmodern era. There is nothing like this; it is a one-of-a-kind volume; and it provides firsthand material for ruminating on the history of exegesis. It should be noted that there are translations of materials here never before available in English.
We learn about Pesher and Midrash; Tannaim and Haggadah; Halakic and Talmudic; Patristic and Medieval; Allegorical and Anagogical; Deistic and Idealistic; Grammatical-historical and Historical-grammatical. All the big names are here: Philo, Origen, Augustine, Rashi, Aquinas, Calvin, Strauss, Bultmann, Childs, Trible. Several no names (i.e., names known only to specialists) are here: Sa'adia, Lyranus, Vatable, Amama, Hartlich. Introductions and notes to each section are brief, to the point and helpful. The volume is an ideal mountain top overview of the history of interpretation ab fontibus.
If we quibble about the assignment of Origen to allegorism (for example), we join those Origenistic contrarians (Mark Edwards, Karen Torjesen, Robert Wilken and our own discussion of the great Alexandrian elsewhere in these pages) who defend him against the 'bum rap'. Origen is not a third century John Bunyan, nor are his Biblical commentaries patristic versions of Pilgrim's Progress. Yarchin's selection and comments are consonant with the 'mainline' view of Origen. But the 'mainline' has been skewed by its own colored glasses beforeand it will be until Jesus returns.
In the meantime, Yarchin's reader helps us bend our minds and hearts to the divinely inspired Hebrew and Greek text. In doing so, we find ourselves rubbing shoulders with a great assembly of witnesses.
James T. Dennison, Jr.
There is not much available by way of commentaries on the book of Esther. As a preacher I must admit that I have neglected the book of Esther, finding it both fascinating and yet mysterious in terms of its purpose and meaning in the history of redemption. Carol Bechtel acknowledges this struggle for many of us and provides a classic quote from Martin Luther who apparently "confessed that he wished the book did not exist at all, saying that it 'Judaizes' too much and is full of 'pagan naughtiness.'" Nevertheless, although this little commentary is interesting to read, it does not open up for us the message of Esther; furthermore, it is devoid of any true eschatology. What is most indicting of her approach is that, with the exception of one simple reference in passing (p. 19), the name of Christ is not even mentioned in the commentary.
This commentary, written by Carol M. Bechtel, Professor of Old Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, is part of the series entitled "Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching." It is short98 pages in all, plus a two-page bibliography. The commentary is divided into three main sections: a twenty-page introduction is followed by sixty-two pages of commentary which is broken down into thematic preaching sections rather than verse-by-verse commentary. The final section is a thirteen-page appendix entitled "the Apocryphal or Deuterocanonical additions to Esther." In this appendix, the author deals exclusively with six additional sections to the book which are found in the Apocrypha and are also in the Septuagint, but which stand outside of the Protestant Canon.
The introduction section is interesting with a few helpful insights into
the structure of the text. For example, there is a structural analysis of the book
on page 6 where she outlines the book in its entirety as a chiasm. However, in
the commentary section, Bechtel spends most of her time simply retelling
the story, highlighting the ironies. She finds no eschatology in Esther. And
she fails to see in the story of Esther the story of Christ and his church. In
her understanding of the text, Christ is absent and clearly not relevant to the
message. Therefore, she is left looking for moral examples both good and
bad. Esther and Vashti become examples of dealing with limited control. As
In her introduction, Bechtel discusses the conspicuous absence of the name of God in the book of Esther and, after discussing how God is in fact working behind the scenes, concludes that God is just one character among many. She writes, "God is very much a character in this book, though one who evidently prefers to remain anonymous" (p. 14). The comfort we are to draw from this is that God is with us in the midst of our struggle as we try to remain faithful in an unfaithful culture. She fails to see that God is the one who is really on the throne in Esther and that Ahasueras in many ways represents the true Almighty King ("Esther Lessons", Jonathan Stark). Bechtel seeks to make a case for seeing the rivalry between Mordecai and Haman as a continuation of the "rivalry" between King Saul and King Agag. She does this by drawing on their respective lineages in Esther where Mordecai is introduced as "Mordecai the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the Son of Kish, a Benjamite," (Esther 2:5) and Haman is called "Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite" (Esther 3:1). This "rivalry" between Saul and Agag refers back to 1 Samuel 15 where Saul in disobedience spared Agag's life and as a result the kingdom was torn from him. However, since she does not see Mordecai as a type of Christ, the rivalry between Mordecai and Haman is trivialized so that instead of being the rivalry between Christ and his enemy it becomes the story of King Saul's revenge on Agag (p. 30).
Throughout the commentary Bechtel seeks to explain the importance
of the book of Esther in the history of Judaism with an emphasis on the power
of the written word. She mentions the theme of deliverance for the Jews
and how we, as Christians, can read Esther and remember the deliverance of
Jesus Christ over sin and death. But she fails to show any connection from the
book of Esther to Christ, finally concluding that "Christians can learn much
from the Jewish experience of the book of Esther" (p. 19). In general we are
reminded of God's providence and our responsibilities (whatever they may
be). She concludes her analysis of Esther with pure drivel about the importance
of "(1) reading the book in its entirety, (2) reading it aloud, and (3) reading
Calvin D. Keller
Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Madeleine Polland, Beorn the Proud. Bathgate, ND: Bethlehem Books, 1961/1999. 185 pp. Paper. ISBN: 1-883937-08-6. $12.95.
Truth, beauty, and goodness rarely join hands in a children's book.
Perhaps because children's books often seek to be didactic, they sacrifice art
for teaching. Concern for truth destroys beauty in favor of pedantic passages
extolling the virtues of a particular figure. This concern for goodness often
cheapens the novel. Unlike Augustine and his apples, the focus becomes
whether Johnny will return the stolen pencil instead of the fact that he has offended
a holy God. However, occasionally these qualities do come together;
Beorn the Proud is one such example. Opening in the Irish hills of the ninth century,
a young girl named Ness discovers her village has been attacked by the
Black Strangers, the Vikings. Beorn, son of the Sea King, kidnaps Ness and
proudly takes her to Denmark as his slave. However, misfortune after misfortune
occurs on their journey, culminating in the death of Beorn's father. Left
leaderless, the Vikings turn to Beorn's evil cousin for leadership while Beorn
chafes against the youth that prevents him from being king. Angered at his new
position, Beorn reproaches Ness and her God of humility. During these dark
days, Ness overhears a plot to conquer the king of all Denmark. In response,
Beorn, his loyal men, and Ness journey to warn the king. After their arrival,
Beorn discovers a way to defeat the larger attacking army. In preparation for
the battle, the Vikings try to win the favor of their gods by sacrifices,
The strength of Beorn the Proud lies not only in the engaging plot, but the author's ability to write lovely prose within the limits of a child's vocabulary. This prose not only evokes the sweetness of green Ireland and the arrogance of Beorn, but it also teaches the power of a child's faith and witness.
Despite its many strengths, the novel has weaknesses as well. Parents with young children must remember that this book deals with the history of the time as it was and includes things like: human sacrifice, prayers for the souls of the dead, and the Vikings's cheap regard for human life. But such episodes present wonderful opportunities to teach little ones how to understand the horrors of sin and to discern, so that they may not be "victims of the printed word."
Wisely, Beorn the Proud avoids a "conversion experience" which often belittles the work of regeneration that only God can provide. However, because of this there is a tendency to understand Beorn's conversion as a mere assent to a new God more suited to his new surroundings. This reminds us, though, of what we never can forgetthat fiction, indeed all art, can merely show. Only God's word and the sweet foolishness of preaching tell us the way to God.
Connie (Mrs. Calvin) Keller