It is hard to over-estimate the theological importance of Phil 2:5-11. Paul’s original intention may not have been to create a theological statement when he described Jesus as the “form of God.” Even though this passage is foundation for a correct understanding of Jesus, Paul assumes the church agrees with his theological statements about Jesus. He is drawing out a practical implication for “living a life worthy of the Gospel” (1:27-2:4) from this important theological statement: serve one another with the same attitude of Christ Jesus.

Corporate Ladder

A Corporate Ladder?

The noun Paul uses to describe Jesus’ outward appearance (μορφή) is used twice in the passage: Jesus goes from “form of God” to “form of servant.”  While the word refers simply to “what something looks like,” it is used to describe the outward appearance of a god. Philo used the word to describe Caligula as “dressed up as a god” (Leg. 110). Most cultures have some sort of system of social stratification that can be discerned from what people wear. Joe Hellerman describes well the Roman emphasis clothing as an external sign of one’s social standing (Embracing Shared Ministry, 142).  For the most part, one could tell social status by the clothes a person wore. A slave, for example, could not parade around in a toga, nor would a wealthy Senator and leading Citizen of Rome dress in rags like a slave.

Jesus was “equal with God.” This parallel phrase uses “equal” (ἴσος). While the word often is used for two things that are equal (for example, Luke 6:34), it appears in several theological important passages.  In John 5:18 Jesus is accused of making himself “equal with God,” something the Jewish religious authorities though worthy of death! Some Greek and Roman rulers claimed to be equal with God. In 2 Macc 9:12, Antiochus claims to be “equal with God” (ἰσόθεος), Appian described the honors Augustus gave to Julius Caesar as “equal with God” (BCiv. 2.148, cited by Hellerman, 143).

But that equality was not “a thing to be grasped.” A “thing to be grasped” (ἁρπαγμός) refers to asserting a title or putting forth a claim for something, or something to be exploited. Think of someone who “makes a claim” for a legal settlement, they think they are entitled to compensation so the “make a claim.” The King James Version had “did not think it robbery,” reflecting the idea of grabbing at something.  Maybe another way to think of this is a benefit that gives you an advantage over other people, maybe handicapped or expectant mother parking at the mall. This is a “status” that allows someone to take an advantage over others.

Paul describes Jesus in this verse as occupying the very highest rank imaginable by anyone in the ancient world, he was in fact God. Yet that position and rank was not something he insisted upon, as the Romans would have done. He set aside that rank in order to humble himself.  The Roman world was based on extreme social stratification. There was a rigid social order in the Roman world, from the extreme minority elites who had virtually all the power to the majority slaves who had absolutely no power.

This humble attitude of mutual submission, even to people of a lower social class, flies in the face of the Roman world, and as Hellerman points out, it flies in the face of power relations within the church (p. 99). Paul’s main point here is to encourage the believer to serve other believers without respect to their rank or position in society. This includes everyone in a local church, including the pastor!

The larger a church grows, the more need there is for power structures reminiscent of American corporate business models. A church could have a “CEO Pastor” who is paid (respected) like CEO in a major business. Perhaps they think of themselves as too busy “casting vision” to drive a van for the youth group, or play games with the elementary kids, or teach a small Bible study, or weed the flowers on a work day.

The pastor worthy of respect is the one who sets aside his title, respect and power, and serves others, doing tasks that might be “beneath” their position.

Karen Swallow Prior recently posted a list of Classic Literary Works to Challenge the Thinking Christian. The top four are all visions of the not-to-distant future dystopias, and are among my favorite books.

  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor
  • The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
  • A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift
  • Areopagitica by John Milton

I thought I would add a few, perhaps obscure books for the “Thinking Christian” to read. These are books challenging the Christian to think more deeply about the nature of faith and the problem of evil. I would include Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Brave New World and maybe Crime and Punishment on my list, I probably would not have included The Road since it is not particularly on religious / spiritual themes (although it is an excellent novel, read it!) I ought to have The Handmaid’s Tale here, but frankly I have not read it. I think Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, The Forever War, and Atlas Shrugged (or The Fountainhead, your choice) are good books on politics, but do not really address “spiritual” issues.

Like Prior, I have an interest in dystopian novels; for some reason these sorts of “what if” novels tend to range toward spiritual issues. But sometimes these books treat spirituality in ways most (evangelical) Christians would find shocking. As I look over the list, these are not “Christian” books at all, but will push the Christian to think about their faith more deeply.

Here is my list, no particular order. I am sure there are other novels I have omitted, feel free to suggest them in the comment section below.

The_Brothers_KThe Brothers K, David James Duncan. This book is a vague retelling of the Brothers Karamazov as a coming of age story in the late 60s. It follows the four Chance brothers as the react to the rapidly changing world of small-town America. Their father is a minor league baseball pitcher who suffers an injury, cutting short his career. Their mother is a devout Seventh-Day Adventist who struggles to keep the family together.

Silence, Shusako Endo. Written in 1966, this historical novel describes the Jesuit mission in Japan in the seventeen century. Most Christians are wholly unaware of the Jesuit mission to Japan or the persecution of Hidden Christians (Kakure Kirishitan) during the Edo period.  During this time, Christians were forced to step on a fumi-e, an image of Jesus or the virgin Mary; those who refuse were tortured and executed. Tracing the steps of a Portuguese missionary, this book explores the problem of the silence of God when his people suffer. Although the topic is disturbing, this is one of the most moving books I have ever read.

Night WeiselNight, Elie Wiesel. This 1958 book is something of a memoir of Wiesel’s experience as a teen in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps in 1944–1945.  The English translation is only 116 pages, and is perhaps the most difficult book I have ever read. The overwhelming silence of God during Wiesel’s experience destroys his faith

Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self Help Book, Walker Percy. Anything by Walker Percy is worth reading, but this 1983 is different. It is a collection of thought experiments and short humorous vignettes. The book strikes me as Robert Anton Wilson meets Pascal.

The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell. Like Silence, this book concerns a Jesuit mission to an unreached people, although in this novel Father Emilio Sandoz is sent to an alien world to bring the gospel to an unknown race of beings. Innocent actions have grave consequences, and Sandoz suffers horribly before returning to Earth. The book questions God’s existence and the nature of faith as the priest must come to terms with his own humiliation and subsequent anger with God.

A_Canticle_for_Leibowitz_cover_1st_edA Canticle for Lebowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.  This book was written in 1959 and was winner of the 1961 Hugo Award for Best Novel. It is a post-apocalyptic novel with a twist. The world is slowly recovering from hundreds of years of dark ages after a nuclear war while members of the order of the blessed Saint Isaac Leibowitz faithfully copy the sacred texts. The texts are not Christian Scripture however, but science and technology carefully stored by Isaac Leibowitz. The book His posthumous Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman was completed by Terry Bisson. Canticle is a commentary on the relationship of church and state, faith and science.

Small Gods, Terry Pratchett. A fantasy novel takes place in Pratchett’s Discworld and like other books in that (very large) series, this book is satire and biting commentary on organized religion. In this world, the size and power of the god is dependent on how many “true worshipers” follow the god. The Great God Om has the largest religion, but has very few real followers (he must manifest himself as a turtle). I absolutely love the fact that the biggest religion had the smallest god, because no one practicing religion was really worshiping the god! To me, that is very preachable.

Hitchhiker's GuideThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe, Douglas Adams. This is a bit of a cheat, but read all five books of this trilogy. In fact, skip the movie until you have read the books twice and listened to the radio programs and played the Infocom text adventure. Then you can watch the movie. Since Adams was a self-described “radical atheist,” it might seem strange to include him on a list of books Christians ought to read. Adams is an entertaining writer who has a way of expressing complex theological problems with humor. Anyone who has read these books is already thinking about the Babel Fish (a twist in the teleological argument for the existence of God).

There are probably others I ought to include on a list of “good literature everyone should read,” but these would be my additions to the thinking Christian’s library. I love Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (or anything by Murakami for that matter), but his themes are not particularly theological.  Most people who know me are wondering why I did not include Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, but oddly enough that novel has less theology than some of his later ones. Several Arthur C. Clarke books could be included here (the Rama books, Childhood’s End, etc.)

What is a book you read that challenges you to think more deeply about matters of faith?


jesot1The Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament 3.1 (2014) has several interesting articles, including:

  • Nathan Lovell, “The Shape Of Hope In The Book Of Kings: The Resolution Of Davidic Blessing And Mosaic Curse”
  • Matthew R. Akers“The Soteriological Development Of The ‘Arm Of The Lord’ Motif”
  • Silviu Tatu“Making Sense Of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20)”
  • Andrew Witt “David, The ‘Ruler Of The Sons Of His Covenant’ (מושל בבני בריתו):  The Expansion Of Psalm 151 In 11QPsa”

The Journal also has a nice collection of book reviews (including two from me).

A PDF copy is free at the JESOT website, printed copies will be available through Wipf & Stock. The first two issues (Vol. 1) are available in the Logos library.

Interp 4 EzraBoccaccini, Gabriele  and Jason M. Zurawski, ed. Interpreting 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch: International Studies. Library of Second Temple Studies 87; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014. 240 pp. Hb, $125.00.  Link to Bloomsbury

This volume collects an additional fifteen essays from the Sixth Enoch Seminar held in Milan in June 2011. These papers were not included in Fourth Ezra and Second Baruch: Reconstruction after the Fall (Leiden: Brill, 2013). In their introduction, the editors Gabriele Boccaccini and Jason M. Zurawski state that contemporary scholarship has come to realize the importance of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch for understanding first century Judaism and the development of early Christianity (ix). This interest has made the work of the Enoch Seminar profitable since 2001.  (Since this review is lengthy, I will break it into two posts, the first is here.)

Part three of the book collections five articles which deal with exegetical details of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch. Jason M. Zurawski discusses the passage in 4 Ezra the state of the present world is a consequence of Adam’s sin (“The Two Worlds and Adam’s Sin: The Problem of 4 Ezra 7:10-14”). In 4 Ezra 7:74 the author claims God is in control of all things via his initial, foreordained plan. But 7:10-14 seems to state the opposite, Adam’s sin resulted in hardship and evil in the world. Zurawski argues this “complication is more apparent than real” since it can be reconciled with the rest of the book by understanding that God made the world difficult in the first place and Adam was the first to fall into the traps of the world (105). In the book, Ezra thought the world was made only for Israel, but Uriel explains “this world was never intended as the inheritance of the righteous.” This stands in contrast to 2 Baruch, where the world was filled with toil and evil only after Adam’s sin.

Daniel M. Gurtner studies “Eschatological Rewards for the Righteous in Second Baruch.” Baruch’s readers live “between two worlds,” the present evil world where the Temple has been destroyed and the future Paradise that was created for Israel (114). The writer of 2 Baruch exhorts his readers to persevere through their present tribulation because they will receive divine blessing in the future. The specific blessings are “presented in familiar Second Temple terms” (111) such as afterlife and a world to time, a Paradise where there is no suffering, heavenly bliss and a heavenly Jerusalem, complete with a new temple.

In a related article, Jared Ludlow explores “Death and the Afterlife in 2 Baruch.” Because of the view of death in 2 Baruch, the book is an “exhortation to good works, a nondescript ethical liked which may have more in common with Jewish tradition than Christian” (116). After Adam’s sin, the realm of death was prepared (23:4) and after death a soul will face final judgment (books, scales, fire). The judgment is on the basis of the righteousness of the individual, and every secret thought will be exposed (89:3). The final state of the righteous is a crown of glory and a glorified transformation.

Basil Lourié contributes a technical article on the problem of “The Calendar Implied in 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra: Two Modifications of the One Scheme.” After surveying the chronological notices in 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra he concludes both books are using a 364-day calendar and both books conclude their revelation on Pentecost, the day Moses received the Law. The difference is that 2 Baruch begins his sequence on Wednesday, resulting in 31 interval days in the book (as in Jubilees), while 4 Ezra begins the year on Sunday, resulting in 33 interval days (as in 3 Baruch). Lourié suggests that if Rev 1:10 is an initial revelation on a Sunday and the series of sevens are taken as seven days, then the interval days in Revelation also work out to 31. This requires the three non-seven visions to be single days, and ignores the seven thunders in Rev 10:3. Since John is told to not write what the thunders said, Lourié’s scheme may have merit.

Finally in this section of the book, Carla Sulzbach focuses on Jerusalem in these books (“The Fate of Jerusalem in 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra: From Earth to Heaven and Back?”) Sulzbach observes that Baruch is in Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple, while Ezra is living in Babylon some thirty years later. This difference in perspective may affect the portrayal of the city as well as the eschatology of the books. In both books “Jerusalem has become cosmicized and elevated,” but this process was already underway in the later prophets (143). The city is developed upwardly, toward Heaven, and conflated with the Land and Temple.This is especially true in 4 Ezra 10, where the prophet encounters a mourning woman who is transformed into an eschatological Zion.

The final part of the book proposes to study 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch in their Social and Historical Settings. James Charlesworth’s article “4 Ezra and 2 Baruch: Archaeology and Elusive Answers to Our Perennial Questions” has two related themes. First, he argues both authors could have written from the vicinity of Jerusalem between A.D. 70 and 135. There is evidence of a Jewish “large Jewish settlement” at Shu’afat which was occupied between the two revolts. The site has well-constructed mikvoth and five ink wells were found in the upper level of a building. At the very least this implies the site could have served as an administrative center and possibly other literary activity. His point is that Jerusalem was not depopulated nor were Jews banned from the city after A.D. 70., so it is at least possible these books were written within sight of the destruction of the city. The second point he makes in this article is perhaps more controversial. Charlesworth argues 2 Baruch knew at least the pessimistic theology of 4 Ezra, if not the book itself. To support this view, he shows that the implied author of 4 Ezra did not have answers for the destruction of the Temple and did not even think a future messiah would provide much hope. The messiah in 4 Ezra rules for 400 years and then dies; Charlesworth takes this as an implicit rejection of the messianic hopes leading to the revolt. 2 Baruch, on the other hand, provides an answer. The fall of Jerusalem was a punishment for sin; therefore the message of the book is “keep the Torah.” Charlesworth recognizes this suggestion cannot be proven, but offers it as a matter for ongoing discussion.

Stephen Pfann’s fascinating article (“The Use of Cryptographic and Esoteric Scripts in Second Temple Judaism and the Surrounding Cultures”) begins with Ezra’s instructions to five scribes in 4 Ezra 14 as he dictated 94 books: the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible and 70 secret books, kept for the “wise among your people (14:26). Pfann sees this practice as similar to the use of Cryptic A script at Qumran and elsewhere. The article offers an overview of cryptography, but concludes that this script was used at Qumran for texts esoteric documents reserved for the elite members of the community, possibly to be read alongside the Bible itself (194).

The last article in the collection seems to be outside the focus of the volume. In “Apocalyptic as Delusion: A Psychoanalytic Approach,” J. Harold Ellens offers an assessment of the psychology of apocalyptic movements in general, calling the “psychotic Jewish worldviews” (209). He moves quickly from Second Temple documents like 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch to modern “gurus” like Jim Jones and David Koresh, and even Adolf Hitler an examples of delusional and communal psychosis. Finally, he thinks Jesus’ apocalyptic thinking fits the DSM IV criteria for delusion, including megalomaniacal and narcissistic behavior, especially in his belief he would return to judge the world (208). He concludes “it is clear that a generalized delusional ideation had pervaded an entire community of people in the Jesus Movement, in 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, the Qumran Community, the Maccabees, and the followers of Bar Kochba” (209). The collection of essays would have been just as valuable if this essay were left out.

Conclusion. The essays in this collection are an excellent contribution to the ongoing discussion of these two important Second Temple apocalypses.


NB: Thanks to Bloomsbury for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


Interp 4 EzraBoccaccini, Gabriele  and Jason M. Zurawski, ed. Interpreting 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch: International Studies. Library of Second Temple Studies 87; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014. 240 pp. Hb, $125.00.  Link to Bloomsbury

This volume collects an additional fifteen essays from the Sixth Enoch Seminar held in Milan in June 2011. These papers were not included in Fourth Ezra and Second Baruch: Reconstruction after the Fall (Leiden: Brill, 2013). In their introduction, the editors Gabriele Boccaccini and Jason M. Zurawski state that contemporary scholarship has come to realize the importance of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch for understanding first century Judaism and the development of early Christianity (ix). This interest has made the work of the Enoch Seminar profitable since 2001. Since this review is lengthy, I will break it into two posts (part two).

The essays in the first part of the collection focus on how 4 Ezra relates to other texts in the Apocalyptic Tradition. Veronika Bachmann demonstrates how 4 Ezra and the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36) are both rooted in traditional ways of thinking about the history of the world in her article “More than the Present: Perspectives on World History in 4 Ezra and the Book of the Watchers.” Both works have a view of history consisting of a series of ages, although the focus is on the present evil world and the coming world promised to the righteous. Yet neither book is escapist, the readers are to affirm this world’s realities and live righteous lives (17). As such, both works emphasize the sovereignty of God. The Book of the Watchers is closer to the category of “sapiential wisdom” since the book stresses a good creation. Fourth Ezra, on the other hand, is more “apocalyptic wisdom” since it is looking forward to an “other-worldly Jerusalem” (31).

Since the Qumran literature was written well before the destruction of the Temple and 4 Ezra just after, Bilhah Nitzan traces some development by comparing five specific apocalyptic ideas in his essay “Apocalyptic Ideas in 4 Ezra in Comparison with the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Both works hold a deterministic concept of history that attempts to explain the origin of evil, although the Qumran literature is more hopeful concerning the future punishment of gentiles. Both certainly look forward to judgment on the wicked, but 4 Ezra sees this as the work of God alone (not the righteous). One methodological problem with the essay is that the Qumran literature is a collection rather than a single book. It is difficult to know why a copy of 4Q Pseudo-Ezekiel appears among the Dead Sea Scrolls—did the community value the book because they agreed with it? The non-sectarian documents may not reflect the views of the community, although I think Nitzan is right to judiciously conclude that resurrection of individuals was widely held in the Second Temple period.

Laura Bizzarro’s essay compares the fifth vision in 4 Ezra and Daniel 7, specifically the meaning of the Eagle and the Lion (“The ‘Meaning of History’ in the Fifth Vision of 4 Ezra”).  She finds the fifth vision to be consistent with other Jewish apocalypses: history is linear, with an absolute and imminent end. 4 Ezra is adapting and updating the language of Dan 7 in order to predict the coming judgment of Rome in the near future. In Dan 7, the eagle image was used to describe wicked Hellenistic kings leading up to Antiochus, 4 Ezra “updates” the image to refer to the Julius-Claudian dynasty. The lion in 4 Ezra refers to the “defeat and annihilation of the eagle,” suggesting the “end of the Roman empire and the end of history” (35).

The second part of the collection compares 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch, to Early Christian Literature. In his article,“The Woman Who Anoints Jesus for his Burial (Mark 14) and the Woman Who Laments her Dead Son (4 Ezra 9-10) – Twice the Same Person?”, Andreas Bedenbender argues the Gospel of Mark is implicitly dealing with the fate of the city of Jerusalem and this pericope treats the death of Jesus and the loving relationship of Jesus and Zion (46). Specifically in Mark 14, the breaking of alabaster bottle of perfume is an allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem and the woman herself is an allegory for Zion. The perfume is nardos, a word only appearing in the LXX Song of Solomon, a marriage context. Her action therefore means something like “if you are really the messiah, then act now and save the city from destruction” (45). As Bedenbender points out, this is “highly speculative” but points to several hints in Mark’s gospel as well as parallels to the grieving woman in 4 Ezra 9-10 to support his claim.  This article was fascinating to me since I covered much the same ground in Jesus the Bridegroom, 174-6. As I pointed out there, the real problem for 4 Ezra as an example of a marriage metaphor is that the son/bridegroom is not the focus of the section, rather Zion as a grieving mother.

Calum Carmichael examines 4 Ezra’s view of creation as a model for understanding John 1-5 (“Days of Creation in 4 Ezra 6:38-59 and John 1-5”). That John models his Gospel on Genesis is well-known, although what his point in doing so was is not always clear. John reworks the creation story on a way that would be understood by his highly literate Hellenistic Jewish audience (51). Carmichael does not think the “pessimism of 4 Ezra is a negative counter-statement to the confident, triumphant claims of John’s Gospel,” although they “share a common pool of ideas about the created order” (60).

Eric F. Mason examines how Psalm 104:4 is used in Hebrews and compares it to 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra (“2 Baruch, 4 Ezra, and the Epistle to the Hebrews: Three Approaches to the Interpretation of Ps 104:4”). In the Hebrew Bible the verse refers to the power and majesty of God, yet the trajectory in the Second Temple Period was to read the verse as a description the creation of angels from wind or fire. Mason doubts use of this verse in Hebrews 1:7 has anything to do with the creation of angels, although Jubilees 2:2-3 and 2 Baruch 21:6, 56:11 may allude to Ps 104:4 as a description of angels. Fourth Ezra, on the other hand, uses Ps 104:4 to underscore God’s incomparable dominion—God is able to transform his servants into fire or wind.

The final article in this section of the book Rivka Nir challenges the consensus view that the Epistle of Baruch was a Jewish composition. Her article, “‘Good Tidings’ of Baruch to the Christian Faithful (The Epistle of 2 Baruch 78-87),” argues the letter is best understood as a Christian composition “pervaded with Christian symbolism” (93). The Letter describes itself as a letter of “doctrine” and “hope.” While doctrine is a fair translation of the Syriac, she contends the translation “scroll of hope” is “baseless,” the word ought to be rendered “good tidings” or even “good news.” It is the very word used for Christian gospels. To support her contention, she points out the metaphors in 77:13-16 can all be applied to Christ: A lamp, a shepherd, and a fountain. While all three are developed from the Hebrew Bible, they are thoroughly Christianized in the Gospel of John (for example). In addition, the imminent expectation of the end of the ages is more like Christian apocalyptic than Jewish since it is looking forward to resurrection into a new world. The poem in 85:10-11 is “pervaded with Christological imagery” (79). She hears a faint echo of Jesus’ calming the sea in this poem and observes that the image of a “safe harbor” is common in early Christianity, especially among the Syrian fathers (83). The Hebrew Bible describes the “resting place” of God’s people as a return to the Land of Canaan, not a safe harbor. There is no hope for the restoration of the Temple or sacrifices, and even the commands to “remember the Law” are generic (no purity laws, no circumcision of food laws). I find her arguments persuasive, although the article falls short in explaining how a Christian composition became attached to 2 Baruch. Likely as not it was added by the Syrian Christians who preserved 2 Baruch itself, on the analogy of the expansions to 4 Ezra.

The review will continue in the next post.

InwaldLogos Bible Software is offering another nice little in their “Free Book of the Month” promotion.  Partnering with Wipf & Stock this month, Logos is giving away a copy of Hans J. Iwand’s The Righteousness of Faith According to Luther (Wipf & Stock, 2008). Hans J. Iwand (1899-1960) was professor of theology at Gottingen and Bonn. This translation of the 1941 Glaubensgerechtigkeit nach Luthers Lehre was made by Randi H. Lundell. According to the W&S catalog, the book “is an important contribution to contemporary appreciation of Luther’s theological significance for today. Although Iwand wrote his study three decades after the beginning of the Luther Renaissance, it nevertheless developed some of the central insights of Luther scholarship during that period.”

In addition to this free book, Logos is also offering an “almost free” book, Brett Muhlhan, Being Shaped by Freedom: An Examination of Luther’s Development of Christian Liberty (Wipf & Stock 2012). Robert Kolb of Concordia Seminary says  “This refreshing analysis contributes significantly to our understanding of the holistic view of Christian righteousness fashioned by Luther’s distinctions of law and gospel and of two kinds of human righteousness.” Muhlhan contents that we can confidently affirm that Luther did indeed get Christian freedom right and that he did not fail to live by the implications of this radical theology (from the cover). The book is only 99 cents for a limited time.

The give-away this month is also Luther-related: Select Studies in Martin Luther’s Life and Influence, Part 1 (15 vols) from Wipf & Stock. The print versions of these books would run well over $300.


PretendingJune and July are usually slow months for Bibliobloggers, and it looks like many regular writers have dedicated themselves to watching the World Cup. Jim West undoubtedly will have posted his Avignonian Carnival, although he is a master multi-tasker and rarely misses a second of major sporting events.

Despite the warm weather and interest in men kicking a ball in Brazil, there were some significant posts this month. Before this World Cup Carnival rolls in, I need to add my plea volunteers to cover the rest of the year – contact me (plong42 at gmail) to volunteer! Carnivals are a great way to get some good exposure for your blog.

Biblioblog News. Peter Kirby posted his Top Fifty Biblioblogs for the quarter ending June 30. Several blogs are inactive. #5 Bibbia has only made three posts in 2014 and not since March; the venerable Scotteriology has been silent since March; #36 Remnants of Giants has been dormant since October 2013. Andrew King has not updated The Blog of the Twelve since October either. Josh Breland at Diaspora has been quiet since April. The BusyBody moved to WordPress (good idea!). The Centre for the Study of Christian Origins at the University of Edinburgh also has moved to WordPress. I also notice the Top Fifty list still have Euangelion at their old address, they moved to Patheos in 2011! Finally, Brian Renshaw has moved  to, made some significant cosmetic changes.

Bible Study and the Christian Life continues to move up the list. There are a few new blogs to the top fifty. Ian Paul’s Psephizo has been around for a while, but is in the top 50 this month. For the first time I can recall, a publisher’s blog made the top fifty (Eerdworld). Steve Wells and Philip Wells have been writing at Dwindling In Unbelief, a blog described as “an unbeliever’s thoughts on the Bible, the Qu’ran, and the Book of Mormon.”

Passings and Closings. Long time Professor of Greek and New Testament at Baptist Bible Seminary Rod Decker passed away at the end of May. He was a long-time blogger at NT Resources. His family made several posts in his last days that stand as a testament to his personal faith in Jesus Christ as his savior.  Many have written tributes to Rod in the last month.  Robert Cargill reflects on the death  of Dr. Yuval Peleg in an accident at an archaeological dig site between Homesh and Karnei Shomron in the West Bank on Thursday, June 26, 2014.

Several long standing blogs announced they are closing.  Brian LePort shuttered his popular blog Near Emmaus on June 20, although he will continue to post on several other blogs (Seedbed and Bible Study and the Christian Life). Michael Kok is no longer posting at Kata Markon, he will continue his work at Bible Study and the Christian Life. Kata Markon will get occasional updates for new publications or conferences, and like Near Emmaus, it will continue as an online archive. Both have been model “biblioblogs” for many years and I wish Brian and Michael best of luck as they move on to other projects. Stephen J. Bedard adjunct faculty at Emmanuel Bible College is closing Hope’s Reason (#35 this quarter) in order to focus on his personal blog. Back in March, Michael Heiser announced  The Naked Bible is moving, or joining forces with his other blog, Paleobabble, at new eponymous blog Michael Heiser.

Old Testament / Ancient Near East Studies  

Yellow Card for BrazilMichael Heiser comments on Genesis 1-2 as Polemic, interacting with Cris Putnam at Logos Apologia. “What’s happening in Genesis 1-2 is very obvious to anyone who works in the original text (beyond simplistic word studies) and (important) is familiar with ancient Near Eastern creation stories.”

James Pate offers a reflection on Jeremiah 30:21 – “The Prince Who Dares (Or Engages His Heart) to Approach God.” 

Using Psalm 89 as an example, Bob Mac Donald asks “How Important is it to Read All of a Long Psalm?”


Claude Mariottini has a nice piece on the search for the city of Ai. He also wrote the best article I have read on “ripping open pregnant women” in a long time….well, ever.

Luke Chandler wonders if the finds from Khirbet Qeiyafa improve Bible translation?  He discusses an article by Yosef Garfinkel and Madeleine Mumcuoglu  on temple shrines and 1 Kings 6:31-33. Later in the month Luke checked in from The Tel Lachish Excavation with Field Report from Week 1.

Beit Guvrin was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site this month. Beit Guvrin is not a particularly “biblical” site so it is not on many tours of Israel. I have visited in three times, and my students always find it interesting, climbing around in the Bell Caves is quite the experience. While not really on an archaeological site, Wayne Stiles lists 3 High Points to See in the Golan Heights, but really all three can be seen from Mount Bental. This is on very few Christian tours, but I have been up there three times, and it is well worth the extra drive.

BiblePlaces has a round-up of criticisms of the Temple Mount Sifting Project and linked to a response from the The Sifting Project to an article in the Times of Israel.

Matthew R. Malcolm explains How coins help us understand the Bible.

Lawrence Schiffman wrote two short posts on Schisms in Jewish History, first The Limits Of Tolerance: Halakhah And History, then one on the Samaritan Schism.

New Testament
Chris Keith has a few comments on a Larry Hurtado upcoming New Testament Studies article on “Oral Fixation in New Testament Studies”.  “Hurtado’s arguments are, to my mind, convincing.”

The Sacred Page asks, “Is Peter Cephas?”The post interacts with two papers by Barth Erhman and Dale Allison from the early 1990s.

Paula Fredriksen does not like N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God. “Wright’s book is historically important, therefore, for the light that it sheds not on Paul, but on the last century of Pauline studies.”

Austrailia World CupTim Widowfield wrote a short piece on Jesus and the Relationship Between Sin and Disease at Vridar. “People like to talk about Jesus as if he’s a close friend and trusted confidante, but the real, historical Jesus would have been just as Albert Schweitzer described him: ‘a stranger and an enigma.”

Books-at-a-Glance has an iterview with Darrell Bock on his Jesus According To Scripture: Restoring The Portrait From The Gospels.

Tim Gombis comments on “Worldliness” According to Paul. “It seems to me that the parallels between the “worldly” Corinthian community dynamics and contemporary American tribalized evangelicalism are endless.” Gombis also has a long series on Cross-Shaped Leadership. “Christian leadership, then, ought to be cruciform since those who lead do so on behalf of the One whose identity is determined by the cross.”

Joel Willitts on Torah as Interpretation and Paul’s Dying to the Torah (Gal 2:19). “We need to be much more aware of the fact that Torah means different things to different Jews/Jewish groups in the first century.”

Clifford Kvidahl has a nice comment on New Testament Theology via G. B. Caird. Abram K-J at Words on the Word posted A Sermon on Romans 6:1-11, one of the few blog posts this month featuring a bikini selfie (not Abram, I assume).

Allan Bevere finished his six part series  on Reading Revelation as Wesleyans, an interaction with Joel Green’s book on the topic. The link goes to part one (from May).

Ian Paul thinks Revelation 8 and 9 is the Hardest Passages to Preach On.

Textual Criticism:

Roger Pearse has an excellent introduction to the dictionaries of ancient Greek that survive from antiquity. This is a long article, but collects a great deal of useful information.

AngryCatWorldCupLarry Hurtado posted a brief evaluation of Brent Nongbri article published in Museum Helveticum 71 (2014) on the date of P66 (P. Bodmer II). Nongbri thinks the uses of the staurogram in P66  imply a date in the fourth century, and while Hurtado is impressed with his work, he cautions “it is important to give the matter patient and adequate attention.”

One more on the Jesus’s Wife fragment: Stephen Emmel, The Codicology of the New Coptic (Lycopolitan) Gospel of John Fragment (and Its Relevance for Assessing the Genuineness of the Recently Published Coptic “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” Fragment). “I do not see how there can be any room for doubt in anyone’s mind that the John fragment is but the product of a hoax.”

Alin Suciu has a summary of Catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts in the Collection of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.

Brice Jones reviews a new hardback facsimile edition of P.Bodmer II (P66; Gospel of John): L’évangile selon Jean: Introduction et traduction de Jean Zumstein (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2008). He includes some gorgeous pictures of the volume, bordering on BookPorn.

Dan Wallace - There Were Giants in Those Days: Codex Robertsonianus (Gregory-Aland 2358), correspondence between Adolf Deissmann and A. T. Robertson which eventually led to the purchase of a Greek Gospels manuscript by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Wayne Coppins introduces English readers to the German scholar Oda Wischmeyer, editor of Lexikon der Bibelhermeneutik (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013) and Paul: Life, Setting, Work, Letters (T&T Clark, 2012). Her Dictionary of Biblical Hermeneutics is a significant contribution, but not well-known non-German readers.

Mike Aubrey makes some good observations on the Linguistic adequacy and Greek Grammars.


At Cataclysmic, Michelle Mikeska demonstrates What Difference a Trinity Can Make.

There is an interesting discussion going on at The Busybody on Two Theories of Mysticism. The post compares Did Muhammad Exist? and On the Historicity of Jesus, two books that “represent levelheaded arguments for mythicism. Their authors may have controversial personas, but that shouldn’t be confused with whacky theorizing.”

England World CupDan Wallace has a lengthy review of Defining Inerrancy, by J. P. Holding and Nick Peters, with a forward by Craig Blomberg. This book is a response to Norm Geisler and Bill Roach’s Defending Inerrancy. Wallace points out that Geisler is intent on re-igniting the battle for the Bible, this time around it is more Game of Thrones style. Holding and Peters are trying to answer Geisler’s narrow view of inerrancy, and “are not in the least denying inerrancy; they are simply rejecting a rigid form of it that they see as dangerous to the health of the evangelical church

Steve Duby at the Theology Forum makes a “Plea for Understanding” from ‘Calvinism’ and its Discontents. “If one knows only the big names of the ‘new Calvinism,’”says Duby, “one’s view of what Reformed convictions look like on the ground can be skewed.” He encourages readers to listen to  Sinclair Ferguson and Derek Thomas, who “exemplify some of the best Reformed preaching done today.”

Atheist Biblical Criticism has a long review of Komarnitsky’s Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection.

N. T. Wright made some comments in interview on marriage and homosexuality which, not surprisingly, was highly controversial. Anytime you bring up Nazis and Communists in the context of homosexuality you are going to catch someone’s attention. Suzanne McCarthey calls Wright’s interview “most surprising and somewhat incoherent interview,” and Sarah Moon called him a bigot  accused him of bigotry, although she later backed away [edit: she did not back away, see Moon's comment below] from claiming Wright compared the LGBT community to Nazis.  Alan Hooker had a few comments on the Wright dust-up as well. In a post prompted by this debate, J. K. Gayle asks, “must ‘the wife of the Lamb’ be a Ewe?”

Book Reviews

Bart Erhman’s How Jesus Became God continues to generate discussion. Lindsay Kennedy at My Digital Seminary, reviews the Michael Bird edited How God Became Jesus.   He has already written a great deal on both Erhman’s book and the responses in How Jesus Became God. “Tilling offers a devastating critique of Ehrman’s methodology and exegesis…” Nick Norelli at Righting Dividing the Word of Truth comments on Erhman’s built-in failsafe when accused of not interacting with scholarship: “it’s a popular book.”Jennifer Guo finished a long series on How Jesus Became God as well.

Suarez was HerePeter Arzt-Grabner, Interpretation of ΙΟΥΝΙΑΝ in Rom 16.7 (Paulus Handbuch (ed. Friedrich W. Horn; Mohr Siebeck, 2013), reviewed by Wayne Coppins.

Craig Evans, From Jesus to the Church:  The First Christian Generation (Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), reviewed by Larry Hurtado

Louis Crompton.  Homosexuality and Civilization. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003, reviewed by James Pate.

Jennifer Guo read some books this month. A lot of books: Greg Monette, The Wrong Jesus, Robert B. Stewart (editor), The Message of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and Ben Witherington III in Dialogue, Charles Quarles, Illustrated Life of Paul Herbert W. Bateman, Interpreting the General Letters and John Walton & D. Brent Sandy, The Lost World of Scripture.

Andrew Louth, Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology  (IVP Academic), reviewed by Mike Skinner.

Commentaries on Genesis 1-3: Severian of Gabala (IVP Academic), reviewed by Roger Pearse. Severian of Gabala? Pretty much the only “curious flat-earth theory” you will read this year.  Pearse has an updated bibliography on Severian and a summary of a Coptic life of Severian.

Daniel Block,  Hearing the Message of Scripture: Obadiahreviewed by Abram K-J.

Kevin L. Anderson. Hebrews: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition. New Beacon Bible Commentary. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2013), reviewed by Brian Small.

Susanne Scholz, editor, Feminist Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Retrospect (Sheffield Phoenix Press, October 2013), reviewed at womensHebrewBible.

Rudolf Bultmann,  Neues Testament und christliche Existenz . Mohr Siebeck, 2002, Reviewed by Drew Davis, Münster.

I reviewed Michal Beth Dinkler, Silent Statements: Narrative Representations of Speech and Silence in the Gospel of Luke. (BZNW 191; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013); Esther Chung-Kim and Todd R. Hains, editors. Acts. Reformation Commentary on Scripture: New Testament 6. (Downers Grover, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2014); Herbert W. Bateman, Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook. (Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2013).


Burridge, Cleese, and Goodacre

Burridge, Cleese, and Goodacre

Mark Goodacre reported on a unique conference: Jesus and Brian.  Or: What Have The Pythons Done For Us? hosted by Joan Taylor at Kings College, London, with support from Richard Burridge. Bart Erhman had a few posts on Brian and the Apocalypse, along with video clips from the film. Here are Chris Keith’s comments on the Life of Brian conference, and “veryrarelystable” at Atheist Biblical Criticism has some interesting thoughts as well.  This conference was an excellent idea for a conference and appears to have been well-planned. The very fact that John Cleese participated in a biblical studies conference makes me very happy. I have often told my students that the general “background” of Life of Brian was a fairly accurate picture, now I have scholarly confirmation.

Chris Keith offerse a few comments on the 2014 Evil in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity Conference at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.

The Third Nangeroni Meeting of the  Enoch Seminar in Rome, Italy was held on June 22–26, in Rome. The theme of the conference was Re-Reading Paul as a Second-Temple Jewish Author. “The meeting aims at re-examining afresh Paul’s Jewish background, his criticism against the Roman Imperial order, and his contribution to early Christian identity formation. We plan to have panels on the following topics: (1) Paul within Second Temple Judaism , (2) Paul and Second-Temple Jewish Apocalypticism , (3) Paul and Second-Temple Jewish Messianism , (4) Paul and the Law , (5) Paul between Empire and Jewish Identity , (6) Is There a ‘Two-Way Salvation’ in Paul? , (7) Paul, Anti-Semitism, and Early Christian Identity Making .”

A.D. Riddle reports on his visit to the “Roads of Arabia” exhibition, currently at the Kansas City, Missouri .

While on the topic of conferences, David Lincicum offers some sage advice on “not being a jerk at conferences.” I am thinking of printing this and handing it out this fall in San Diego.

Tyndale House announces the new version of their online Bible, STEP. This looks like a very useful tool!

Current Events:

Peter Enns stirs the waters by offering “Some Unasked for Advice on Whether an Evangelical Should Get a PhD in Biblical Studies.” His concern is the job market (you are destined to be adjunct). “The financial and personal challenges you go through in pursuing your degree–not to mention the job market once you enter it–will be unbearable unless you have a genuine, authentic, deep inner drive to spend the next 5-10 years in school.” In addition, he is worried about a growing climate of suspicion among Evangelicals with respect to those who have higher education: “by getting a PhD you are alienating yourself from 99% of the educated western Christian world.”

Just a ChildGood advice from Fred Clark: “Avoid any book with ‘leadership’ in the title.”  I also avoid books with titles like “the twelve laws of…”

Marcus Borg asks: Does the Bible Matter?  His answer: “Absolutely. Without it, the foundation of Christianity crumbles.” So Borg loves the Bible, just not in a fundamentalist way.

Ben Corey - What’s So Complicated About “Love Your Enemies”? 

Shane Claiborne on the Death Penalty.

Tony Reinke piece on Nepal’s Most Unlikely Church Planter.

Rod over at Political Jesus, The Cross, Predestination, and Emmett Till. You get Black Theologians, Hip Hop culture, Civil Rights heroes.

Karen Swallow Prior offers a list of Classic Literary Works to Challenge the Thinking Christian. She has 13 books, the top four are Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It appears that scary visions of the not-to-distant future are especially challenging!

Stranger than Fiction…

Autographed JesusZack Hunt at The American Jesus linked to an art exhibit of Kim Kardashian As Jesus (And The Virgin Mary).

You missed your chance to bid on an autographed picture of Jesus on eBay. Still more authentic than the James ossuary.

The hard-hitting journalists at Haaretz ask “Did Adam and Eve speak Dutch?”  The article is behind the pay wall,fortunately. Otherwise my Facebook page would be clogged with “re-post if your agree” spam.

Theologian and Biblical Scholar Elton John declares that Jesus would support Gay marriage.  Glad that is settled now.

This sounds like a potentially strange story, Mitch Albom meets Mick Jagger in the Holy Sepluchre. My guess is Keith Richard visited the bone-room at St. Catherine’s Monastery, but no one noticed.


The July Carnival (due August 1) will be hosted by Jonathan Homrighausen at Linguae Antiquitatum. Contact him (jdhomrighausen at gmail) with your nominations for the next carnival. Rob Bradshaw will host the August Carnival, but after that I am looking for volunteers to cover the rest of the year – contact me (plong42 at gmail) to volunteer!



EldersNewton, Phil A. and Matt Schmucker. Elders in the Life of the Church: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2014. Pb. $16.99   Link to Kregel

Both of the authors of this new book from Kregel are well-qualified to write a book on biblical leadership. Pastor at South Woods Baptist Church in Memphis, Phil Newton has written on elders in Elders in Congregational Life: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership (Kregel, 2005). Elders in the Life of the church is a revision of this earlier book. Matt Schmucker is the founding director of 9Marks, “a ministry dedicated to equipping church leaders with a biblical vision and practical resources.” The ministry publishes 9Marks Journal, a quarterly themed journal with articles of interest to pastors and church leaders. Elders in the Life of the Church is decidedly Baptist in orientation: Mark Dever (author of Nine Marks of a Healthy Church) writes the forward and Al Mohler offers a back-cover endorsement. The authors contribute alternating chapters, with Newton giving the detailed biblical support for elders and Schmucker offering short anecdotal sketches of how Mark Dever and Capitol Hill Baptist Church made a transition to Elder Leadership.

The main point of the book is that the ideal model for the leadership of the local church is a plurality of qualified elders. These qualifications are found in specific passages in the New Testament and the “church must give serious attention to the New Testament pattern of spiritual leadership” (114). The book is written to support leadership by “plurality of elders” as opposed to a single elder (the pastor).

The first part is a defense of elder leadership in the local church. Schmucker says “mentioning “elders: to most twentieth century Baptists was like saying ‘College of Cardinals.’ It was unfamiliar, maybe even secretive, and therefore deserving of suspicion” (59). This first section therefore must deal with this kind of mistrust from church members who have never been led by a plurality of elders by showing the history of elders within Baptist circles as well as a brief overview of the qualities expected of elders in the New Testament.

Part two examines the biblical data for elder leadership, Acts 20:17-31; 1 Tim 3:1-7, Hebrews 13:17-19; 1 Peter 5:1-5. One chapter is devoted to a basic exegesis of these texts, with references to Greek in transliteration and in footnotes. With respect to the duties of elders, preaching, teaching and ruling are the main duties, although “ruling” is left undefined. Newton follows Mounce’s commentary on the Pastoral Epistles closely, pointing out that the character of an elder is defined in 1 Timothy in contrast to the opponents in Ephesus. Paul is not saying an elder must be a “super Christian,” but rather a spiritually mature leader. They are shepherds, watching over the flock (1 Peter 5:1-5).

Finally, part three of the book moves from theory to practice, offering some advice on transitioning a church to a leadership style based on biblical elders. If they are right about elder leadership in the second section of the book, then some congregations will have to change radically in order to have biblical leadership. Here both Newton and Schmucker share the experience in moving a congregation to a “plurality of elders” leadership model. The advocate for a slow, almost evolutionary change and offer advice on making some beginning steps in establishing elders and deacons within a congregation. Change is never easy and is almost always resisted, Newton and Schmucker recognize this and hope to ease the pain if a church should decide to change in this way.

I have always fellowshipped I churches with a “plurality of elders,” so to some extent it was disorienting to read a defense of elder leadership. On the one hand, I was already in agreement with the premise and did not need to move my church to a plurality of elders. There was nothing shocking in Newton’s presentation of a biblical model of elder leadership, although I was occasionally puzzled by reading Schmucker’s experience at Capitol Baptist. But that is mostly because my experience has been quite different.

In fact, I have often wondered if the leadership model of the early church is supposed to be normative for all generations of the church. It seems to me Paul’s churches were not significantly different than synagogues, but Christian churches only pick some elements of that leadership and not others, and usually in ignorance of the origins of these practices. People tend to tenaciously cling to church traditions without really wondering if they are biblical or not. In the end, however, I agree elder leadership is far more biblical than any of the alternatives (monarchial, single elder, American corporate board leadership, pure democracy, etc.)

One thing missing from this book is any discussion of women as elders. The assumption seems to be that only men may serve as elders. Neither 1 Tim 2:9-15 or 1 Cor 14:3-35 are discussed, and although 2:12 appears once in the book, it is with reference to the views of another pastor. While those two texts are not specifically referring to woman as elders, they are part of the discussion. There is no mention of Phoebe (Rom 16:1, a deacon) or Junia (Rom 16:7, possibly an apostle) in the book. Given the Baptist context of the book, this is not surprising and a discussion of the issue of women in ministry would have introduced a controversial and divisive issue, distracting from the overall argument of the book.

This does not mean the book will not be valuable to churches already using elder leadership. The use of “biblical” in the title is important, since the goal of the book is to describe how the churches of the New Testament were led. One could read only Newton’s chapters and have a good overview of the New Testament view of church leadership, or read just Schmucker’s chapters in order to see how a church can change to this style of leadership.

Any church (Baptist or non-) can use this book to redefine and reinvigorate their leadership by re-aligning that leadership with biblical values for those whom God has called to lead his flock.

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


Dinkler, Michal Beth. Silent Statements: Narrative Representations of Speech and Silence in the Gospel of Luke. BZNW 191; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013. 261 pp. Hc; $140.00. Link to De Gruyter

This monograph is a revision of Dinkler’s Ph.D dissertation completed in 2012 at Harvard Divinity School. She was one of François Bovon’s last students and his guidance is evident in this fine study of silence in Luke’s Gospel. Dinkler proposes to study “the complex ways that narrative intersections of speech and silences can be useful touch-points for how the Lukan narrative attempts to shape its readers” (5). She follows John Darr in arguing the goal of Luke’s Gospel is to persuade readers to become believing witnesses, and intentional silences in the text are powerful rhetorical elements used by the author to achieve this goal.

DinklerSince this is a revised dissertation, it necessarily begins with a review of previous literature on the rhetorical function of silence. While there are quite a few studies on silence in ancient literature, New Testament scholarship has scarcely recognized their value for reading the Gospels. One recent exception is Bruce Longenecker’s Hearing the Silence (Cascade, 2012), which was published at the same time as Dinkler’s study. Both books examine Luke 4, although Dinkler looks at the whole Gospel of Luke.

Dinkler highlights three main features of silence. First, silence is multivalent (8). When a writer includes silence, the readers fill that silence with something. Silence therefore can express shame, fear, admiration or domination (9). Multivalent typically implies a saying (or silence) is open to several interpretations. Since it is the reader who supplies the interpretation, I initially wondered to this approach to silence opens the door to a full reader-response approach to the text. In practice, this is not really the case. In the examples she studies in detail, it seems as though the narrator has led the reader to understand a silence with a certain range of meanings.

Second, the meaning of silence of contextually is determined (11). Ironically, silence can be considered a speech act since it is some kind of a response. But the meaning of the silence may be shaped by historical and social contexts. Like unpacking a metaphor, something left unsaid may be interpreted in many ways. Her example “shut the door” might be a request, or a warning, depending on the context. The narrator may provide clues for how the silence should be understood, but there are significant examples in Luke where silence is left open-ended, almost inviting the reader to fill in the gap.

Third, since silence has this illocutionary force, it is rhetorically powerful (12). Just as a powerful speaker will use pauses and silences for the rhetorical impact, so too a writer can make a point more powerful by omitting speech or letting characters remain silent, allowing the reader to interact with the text on a deeper level. Perhaps this is why most readers miss the rhetorical impact of literary silence, they simply read over a gap without noticing it is there! For example, Dinkler discusses the gap between Jesus’ childhood and the introduction of John the Baptist between chapters two and three. Most readers would move from one section of the book to the next without pausing to wonder what the point of a long silent gap in the life of Jesus might mean.

After some clarification on literary categories of narrative, narration, plot, characters, and themes, Dinkler proceeds to survey instances of silence in the Gospel of Luke. She focuses on how silence relates to speech, since “what is unsaid relates to want is said” (43). Sometimes silence is explicit, employing vocabulary like σιγάω or σιωπάω. But there are other examples where Luke as the narrator is silent. She cites Luke 23:9 as an example (46). When Jesus refuses to answer Herod, is this an act of defiance or silent acceptance of his fate? Luke does not make this clear with additional narration, allowing the reader to ponder the reason Jesus is silent before his accuser. Another example of silence in Luke is a character who ponders something in their heart (Luke 2:19, using συμβάλλω) or marvels silently about some event (Luke 11:14, using θαυμάζω).

Chapter 1 surveys silence in Luke’s prologue (1:1-4:13). In each of the sections of Luke surveyed by Dinkler, she begins with a few observations on the implied dialogue between the narrator and the reader. In any good storytelling, the narrator offers some information, but leaves much unsaid. This silence in the narration invites the reader to enter into the story and perhaps fill some of those gaps. As she showed in her introduction, silence is multivalent yet contextually determined. Two examples will suffice in this first section of Luke. Jesus’ first words are in Luke 2:49: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” Since these are the first words Jesus says, they are extremely important, yet they are rather cryptic and left unexplained. Jesus does not explain them, and the narrator is silent as well. The interpretation is left to the reader (59).

A second, subtle silence is the chronological gap between the end of chapter 2 and the beginning of chapter 3. The narrator introduces Jesus as a boy and simple states he grew in wisdom and stature, but then jumps ahead to the ministry of John the Baptist many years later. A hero-story might fill this gap with an account of the training the hero received. A modern film might use a montage scene with background music. Dinkler suggests this narrative silence functions similarly to the silencing of Zechariah, it substantiates the prophecy of John’s future ministry (Luke 1:16-17, 76-78). This silence functions to “exert narratorial reliability, orient the reader, and stimulate readerly curiosity” (61).

The most obvious example here is the silencing of Zechariah. Usually this silencing is taken as a punishment for unbelief, standing in contrast to Mary’s belief. Dinkler as points out, silence in this context can be read as a proof of God’s omnipotence. Gabriel says he will silence Zechariah and he does; God will give a child to Zechariah and Elizabeth, and he does. Since silence is multivalent, this instance of silence can be both negative (punishment) and positive (proof of God’s power). Again, the emphasis is on building the confidence of the reader in the narrator’s reliability.

In chapter two, Dinkler surveys silence in Luke 4:14-9:50. Jesus is presented in this section as a divinely appointed authority whose speech causes others to act. Dinkler points out that with the exception of the Crucifixion, all of the hostility between Jesus and the Jewish authorities in Luke’s Gospel is conversational combat (91). She points out that in Greek novels these sorts of conflicts usually turn violent, but that is not the case here. I wonder if this is unique to Luke’s gospel, since the other three gospels have the same sort of verbal sparring between Jesus and some religious authority. While some react to Jesus’ words with increasing hostility, the disciples often react with confusion.

What is remarkable in this section of Luke is the contrast between Jesus’ increasing reputation and his command for silence. Using Luke 5:12-16 as an example, Jesus heals a leper and commands him to tell no one how he was healed. Nevertheless, “news spread about him all the more.” This is another example of the narrator introducing a question without offering an answer. Why does Jesus demand silence? Why do people not obey that command? This is a well-known problem in Mark (the so-called Messianic Secret). Dinkler recognizes the possibility this is a “vestigial element” taken over from Mark, but suggests rather Luke is purposefully using the command of silence to reveal Jesus’ identity more clearly.

The best example of silence in this section is Jesus’ meal with Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50). Simon’s inner dialogue and Jesus’ response invite the reader into a hidden conversation the others in the story cannot know. This silent dialogue creates a dramatic irony since Simon (and the reader) knows what he thought, thus proving Jesus to be exactly what Simon initially thought he could not be, a true prophet of God (129). The story ends with more silence: when Jesus pronounced the woman’s sins forgiven, the audience wondered “who is this man who even forgives sins?” Neither Jesus nor the narrator answer this question, it is up to the reader to supply the answer. Based on Dinkler’s introduction to rhetorical silence, I wonder how silence can be multivalent in this case. Luke has carefully brought the reader to this point in the narrative and is asking them to answer “who is this then?” There is only a narrow range of answers possible (a true prophet, for example). The silence in this case is rhetorically powerful, demanding an answer from the reader, but the answer to the question has to be the one Luke led the reader to give.

Chapter three covers the lengthy the central section of Luke’s gospel (9:51-19:27). The structure of this section has been described as a “travel narrative” since Jesus starts out for Jerusalem in 9:15 and does (eventually) arrive there in 19:28, but the various geographical notes Luke makes in the section do not strictly conform to a real journey. After mentioning briefly several suggestions for solving this puzzle, Dinkler points out all but two of the geographical references in the central section are accompanied by some kind of verbal utterance (136-7). It is conversation that moves the journey forward.

One of the most important features of this central section of the Gospel is Jesus’ parables. Twenty of the twenty-four parables in Luke appear in these chapters, and not surprisingly, what is not said in a parable is just as important as what is said (148). The narrator is often silent, using gaps, delays, open endings and internal monologues in the stories in order to deepen Jesus’ speech related teaching. “Every parable that contains an inner monologue,” Dinkler says, “can be read as a cautionary message: one’s response to God matters” (154).

Her key example in this chapter is Luke 14:1-6, the Pharisees’ silence before Jesus. At a Sabbath meal Jesus asks the Pharisees and teachers of the Law if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? They remain silent (v. 4a) and Jesus heals the man. He asks them again how their own legal rulings applied to healing on the Sabbath, yet they still have no reply (v. 6). Their refusal to dialogue with Jesus is striking, since Greco-Roman symposia featured this sort of philosophical debates (161). This silence may not be hostile; they may simply have had no answer. In fact, when the religious leadership speaks in the rest of the central, it is “feeble, fruitless speech” (163). This is ultimately demonstrated at the Triumphal Entry, when the Pharisees demand Jesus to silence his disciples (19:39-40). [As an aside, Dinkler’s chapter titles include 19:28-44 in the central section, the introduction, however, makes the break after 19:27 (48). It is difficult to know where to put the Triumphal Entry, since it is a translation from the central section into the Passion narrative.]

Finally, there are several significant examples of silence during Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem, his passion and resurrection (Luke 19:45-24:53). These chapters are remarkably rich in dialogue, as the charts on pages 170-1 make clear. Dinkler describes the Temple conflicts as “verbal duels” and a ‘war of words” (171). Most significant for the theological and pastoral themes of the Gospel is the disciples’ descent into a silence they have chosen (175). When the arrest of Jesus finally occurs, the disciples are sleeping and do not testify to the words they have received from Jesus. They retreat into “self-protective silence” and do not speak until after the resurrection, and then only after the women and two disciples bear witness to the resurrection (178).

When Peter does speak, it is only to deny he knows Jesus. The climax to the denial story is Jesus’ silent gaze (22:60-61). When Jesus turns to look at Peter, the reader does not know if this is a compassionate look, forgiving Peter, or a look of condemnation for his denial. Luke does not explain, once again leaving this to the reader to decide. Dinkler argues this silent gaze is a trigger for Peter’s memory of Jesus’ words to him predicting his betrayal. Since everyone who reads Luke’s gospel will know Peter is a leader of the church, the silence that triggers memory of Jesus’ words is an important theological (pastoral?) point.

Perhaps the most important silence in this section of the Gospel is Jesus’ own silence before Herod (23:6-12). Jesus responds briefly to Pilate, but before Herod Jesus is absolutely silent. But there is more silence in the story, since the narrator does not tell us what Herod asked Jesus (v.9, he “plied him with questions”). Is Jesus’ silence disdain for Herod? Luke does not tell us, opening up several possibilities for the reader (194). After briefly looking at several common explanations, Dinkler points out the obvious: silence is the opposite of Jesus’ behavior elsewhere in the Gospel. He talks with everyone and anyone (demons, sinners, tax-collectors, women, Pharisees, Sadducees, even Pilate!), but now he chooses to be silent. This is the third trial (the Sanhedrin, Pilate, then Herod), each time Jesus becomes more silent (compare 22:67-9 and 23:3). His silence in his final trail functions as other silences have in the book, to call to mind the words of Jesus.

Conclusion. Dinkler’s study is an excellent introduction to a neglected aspect of narrative study. While it seems obvious, the rhetorical power of silence has been overlooked and Dinkler’s study fills that gap for students of the Gospel of Luke. Her concluding chapter ties her observations to the main theological themes of the Gospel, the Divine plan and Human Response, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth, and Discipleship. Luke wants to encourage the reader to become the “ideal disciple” who hears and does the word of God.


NB: Thanks to De Gruyter for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Paul’s appeal in Phil 2:1 is based on what the church already has. The ESV translates these short phrases as conditions (“if there is any….”) This does not mean Paul is unsure of the state of the church in Philippi. The Greek syntax does not express uncertainty and might be translated as “since there is…”  For example, I might say “If it is morning, if coffee is made, then I am going to drink a cup of coffee.” In this case, the sentence is really, “Since it is morning….”

Encouragement in Christ can refer to both comfort and exhortation. The noun (παράκλησις) is something that emboldens you to act (BDAG). The context will make it clear if the word refers to encouraging the timid to act or exhorting someone who needs to be corrected. One side of the word is tenderly comforting a person who is hurting, the other is a swift kick in the pants to motivate a person the right direction!

Wille StargelComfort from love may refer to consoling for a person who is hurting in some way, it is a “friendly word” (TDNT 5:820) . The noun (παραμύθιον) appears in the LXX only in Wisdom 3:18, referring to people who will have no comforter on the day of Judgment. Encouragement and comfort naturally go together. In 1 Thess 2 Paul uses the concepts of mothers and fathers to describe his ministry with that Church, gentle like a mother, encouraging like a father.

Participation or fellowship in the Spirit may refer to the close association all Christians have because the share in the same Holy Spirit. Since all believers have the same Spirit, they ought to have complete unity.

Affection and sympathy are both deep emotional responses one typically has for someone you genuinely love. Affection (σπλάγχνον) originally referred to the inner parts of a person, their bowels or entrails, where emotions are felt most strongly. Sympathy is also a stronger word than in English, οἰκτιρμός is the deep compassion God has for humans (1 Kings 8:50, Zech 7:9, רַחֲמִים). Taken together, the words refer to genuine, “heartfelt sympathy” for one another.

Does this mean there is no room for dissent? American culture almost requires people to have different ideas and opinions, Paul sounds like a cult leader who will squash any dissent!  One criticism Atheists sometimes use is the vast differences between the various denominations of Christianity. Which Christianity is the real one? Compare a traditional Catholic to a radical Protestant and there are very few things that seem the same.  There are good reasons for these differences, but the differences should not obscure the similarities. There are non-negotiable beliefs that make one a Christian (God, Scripture, Jesus, Atonement) and others that are simply differences created by culture and history.

Far from demanding conformity in everything, unity in the church functions like it does in a real family. There are similarities and differences, but what ultimately counts is the family!  The first believers may have been ostracized by their families when they became Christians. If that is true, the church becomes their adopted family. Paul’s description of the church as a family highlights the similarities yet allows for differences. Some have the view that the church is a kind of factory producing identical clones and squashing thought and dissent. This is not at all Paul’s point here!

Since the church is a family, the members of the family ought to be supportive of one another, characterized by the same sort of grace and forgiveness one experiences in an ideal family. This requires humble service from all members of the community, including the leaders. In fact, the best example of humble service is in fact Jesus himself.


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Phillip J. Long

Phillip J. Long

I am a college professor who enjoys reading, listening to music and drinking fine coffee. Often at the same time.

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