Earlier today Mike Bird tweeted Having made enquiry, I’ve gotten a copy of SBL’s letter on the matter to IVP, which begins I am writing this letter to register concern regarding IVCF’s recent publication of its “Theological Summary of Human Sexuality.” While we recognize the right of an employer, church, or ministry to set expectations […]
Eschatology: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches edited by D. Jeffrey Bingham and Glenn R. Kreider
This review will be an abbreviated version of what I would normally do for a book of this sort, i.e., an edited volume with multiple contributors. Because I’ve not had the time to complete the full review, I thought I’d post what I’ve written thus far.
The book is broken up into four parts: (1) The Doctrine of the Future and Its Foundations, (2) The Doctrine of the Future in the Bible, (3) The Doctrine of the Future in the History of Christian Thought, and (4) The Doctrine of the Future and Christian Ministry.
Chapter 1—The Doctrine of the Future and Canonical Unity: Connecting the Future to the Past (Bingham)
This chapter begins with Marcion and a brief biography, the bulk of which concerns his theology. This early discussion focuses primarily on Marcion’s theological miscues as hashed out by Tertullian, Irenaeus, and other early church fathers and then segues to the topic of the chapter—canonical unity and the doctrine of the future. Bingham essentially looks to Irenaeus as a way to “account for the discontinuities between the Testaments without falling into the error or Marcionism” (48). Overall, this was a decent entry in the discussion and employing Irenaeus’ hermeneutic as means of avoiding Marcionism was an interesting take.
Chapter 2—The Doctrine of the Future and the Concept of Hope (Toussaint)
Toussaint begins with the following definition of hope—“desire accompanied by expectation” (54). Toussaint notes the trouble of defining hope using biblical Hebrew vocabulary and finds support in articles written in the 30s and 60s—surely this concept has been explored in more recent studies? (54) However, he does state this does not undervalue the virtue of the Hebrews (55). After a few notes on the use of the term ελπις in the NT, he moves to a brief discussion of hope in terms of result. The next few paragraphs take on a decidedly homiletical tone, practically reading a sermon manuscript. As above, this isn’t necessarily a criticism. Toussaint devotes the bulk of the chapter to a biblical-theological summary of hope, beginning (obviously) with Genesis, in which he cites the protoevangelium as the “first anticipation of a future good” (Gen 3:15). This, of course, is a much later Christian interpretation and one I don’t think the original audience would have made, but is a common interpretation of the serpent’s fate and isn’t really a surprise here, especially given the dispensational necessity of literal interpretations. The remainder of the OT discussion of hope focuses primarily on the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, with brief references to the prophets and the historical Melchizedek, the brevity of which is due to the number of textual references (too many) and likely publication restraints. The discussion of hope in the NT follows the typical groupings—hope in the Gospels, Acts, Paul, general letters, and Revelation, each which traces the theme of future hope through a dispensational lens (58–69). Toussaint’s is what I would say is a fairly standard dispensational biblical-theological understanding of eschatology, but obviously articulated here around the concept of hope, specifically the hope of future life and restoration.
Chapter 3—The Doctrine of the Future and the Weakening of Prophecy (Ryrie)
Ryrie notes a number of questions that might be raised in the modern climate of never-edning prognostications about an impending apocalyptic end to our world—what does this mean for biblical prophecy? “Are they reliable? Were any of them false? How accurately can we expect yet unfulfilled prophecies to come to pass?” Ryrie begins with some “facts” about prophecy in the bible—(1) A true prophet is “someone who announces God’s will to people and/or predicts the future”, (2) some prophecies were wrong, (3) in OT times, false prophets were put to death; in NT times, they were to be tested, and (4) “[t]here are many true and accurate prophecies in the bible” (71–72). Notice that number two above Ryrie claims that some prophecies in the OT were false—GASP! Surely this didn’t come from the pen of a dispensationalist, right?! Yes, but he refers to the serpent’s (read Satan) statement to Eve that if she ate from the tree, she would not die. While I think this stretches things a bit concerning what is/is not prophecy, I’ll concede for the sake of making the point. As you might imagine, these opening paragraphs have very apologetic overtones and continues throughout the chapter. The purpose of this chapter, says Ryrie, is to explore how the existence and/or accuracy of yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecies are being weakened (72). The first example is the changing of traditional dates, particularly as it concerns certain books, e.g., Daniel, that is critical for dispensational readings of the biblical story to hold together. Likewise, Ryrie claims that the book of Revelation has also been subject to scholarly date shifting. His argument is that if Revelation were written in the 90s, then the content of chapters 4–19 would take place in the future; yet, some scholars have argued for a composition date in the 60s, which would then render the book’s prophecies fulfilled by 70 ce, when Jerusalem was sacked and the temple destroyed.
- This rings with scholarly paranoia to me—just because some scholars don’t buy into a particular dating scheme doesn’t mean they’re out to weaken or otherwise diminish prophetic texts.
- This leads to the second example, which is essentially an expansion of the first—the embrace of preterism. Preterism is the view that the fulfillment of prophecies in Revelation took place prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 ce. Ryrie’s stringent hermeneutics, especially with regards to the date of Revelation, leads to the outstanding claim that even moderate preterism “eliminates some fulfillment and weakens the force of the entire body of biblical prophecy” (73).
- His other examples of scholarship’s apparent quest to weaken prophecy are a focus on “genre-dependent” hermeneutics (74) and banking on “chance” (75–76), which is described as essentially waiting long enough that eventually anything can happen.
- Thus far, this has been the most disappointing chapter. It’s practically a rehash of decades-old apologetics on the reliability of prophecy.
Chapter 4—The Doctrine of the Future, the Doctrine of God, and Predictive Prophecy (John and Stefana Laing)
In their chapter, the Laings set out to “address the reliability of the Bible to speak authoritatively concerning prophecy and future events, as its reliability is ground in God’s self-revelation, sovereignty, and omniscience” (78). Laing and Laing delve seek to ground their discussion in the person and nature of God and have produced what is thus far the most academically engaging chapter, at least through its opening sections. Though it is fairly predictable in terms of trajectory—you know where they will land ultimately—they provide a good discussion of theological concerns that underpin the bible’s reliability, specifically in terms of prophecy. The latter portion of the chapter concerns examples of fulfilled prophecy and, based on the groundwork laid previously, why we can trust in these particular prophecies. The chapter concludes with a few thoughts on how prophecy works and how to approach it. Though notably much less, there is a hint of suspicion cast upon liberal scholarship when they write, “there are examples of successful prophetic prediction that even the most liberal scholars cannot explain away” (101). Despite this, the Laings offer a fairly well written and most heavily footnoted chapter to this point in the book.
Section 2—The Doctrine of the Future in the Bible
- The second section of chapters turns the focus to the biblical texts and how they demonstrate what the future holds in God’s plans.
Chapter 5—The Doctrine of the Future and Moses: “All Israel Shall Be Saved” (Block)
Like Toussaint before in chapter two, Block begins with the planting of the seed of eschatological hope in humanity’s heart that’s recorded in Gen 3:15—the protoevangelium—but proceeds for the length of his contribution to discuss Deuteronomy. Though I’ve known of Daniel Block for a number of years and have read some of his works, I was surprised to read the following statement in a volume saturated with Dispensational thought: “In His addresses Moses offers the most systematic instruction of Yahwistic theology to be found in the Hebrew Scriptures” (108; emphasis mine). My surprise is that this wording suggests a preservation of the old documentary-hypothesis view (JEPD) of the Pentateuch’s authorship, a view I assume most/all Dispensationalists would take issue with. Perhaps Block doesn’t subscribe to D/dispensationalism, but in any case, I was surprised by this statement.
Because this is a volume written for Craig Blaising (a leading Dispensationalist) by numerous scholars who hold to some form of Dispensationalism, it’s no surprise that it colors every chapter. Because of the prevalence of this interpretive matrix, perhaps the title could have indicated that. That it doesn’t is not necessarily a criticism, but just a point of note—this book concerns eschatology from a dispensational perspective. As such, each chapter is fairly predictable if you’re familiar with the tenets and tendencies of Dispensationalism in its various forms. If you’re friendly towards D/dispensationalism, then much of this book’s contents will ring familiar and true; if you’re not, then I doubt this volume would change your mind.
Αυτω η δοξα
The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible
I would like to thank the kind folks at Zondervan for this review copy!
Yes, another study bible has been published. One could easily (and perhaps in some cases should) bemoan the many editions of the bible that appear to be nothing more than a marketing grab. However, when it comes to study bibles, plentiful though they are, each one boasts its own strengths and unique features, thereby making each useful in its own way. Enter the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (hereafter CBSB).
Personally, I own several study bibles and I have used them with great benefit, so I certainly don’t mind adding an additional volume to the mix. What is appealing about this study bible is its focus on biblical backgrounds—one of the most interesting and important areas to study when it concerns understanding the world of the biblical writers. Plus, most of my own doctoral research involves Greek and Roman culture, so I was anxious to see the various elements of these cultures that were discussed.
First, as with other bibles I’ve reviewed, I’ll begin with the aesthetics and physical properties. This bible, like other study bibles, is certainly big—2,358 pages—but is slightly less so than Zondervan’s recent NIV study bible. This edition is the hardcover, so there isn’t much to say about that except hopefully it will hold together over time as I intend to refer to it regularly. Visually, the layout and overall design of the bible is quite nice. Unlike the NIV Zondervan Study Bible (read my review here), the pages are slightly tinted with a sepia-like hue, a design choice I rather enjoy as I find it’s often a little easier on my eyes than the starker black-type-on-white-paper format that is more typical.
As I’ve come to expect with most products from Zondervan, the CBSB includes numerous full-color photos throughout. Though the paper used is obviously not the heavier stock capable of displaying the detail of hi-res images, the photos appear very sharp and crisp on the page—a nice addition that adds to the overall usefulness and visual appeal of this volume. At the risk of sounding somewhat juvenile, pictures can have a great impact when studying the scriptures, so I appreciate the attention to this detail. I flipped through my HCSB study bible and found there were virtually no photos included in that volume, so this is a plus for the CBSB. In addition to the numerous photos, the CBSB contains a copious amount of various information-laden inserts—full-color maps, graphs, timelines, essays (320+), introductory articles, glossaries, cross references, and footnotes, all of which serve the obvious purpose of illuminating the backgrounds relevant to the particular biblical book you might be reading.
For this review, I was asked to pore over and comment on a particular book of the NT, so I chose 2 Corinthians. The introductory article tackles the most frequently discussed issue concerning 2 Corinthians—its literary integrity (or lack thereof, depending on your view). The issues of authorship and date are only provided as data in a side bar while the article/essay is essentially an argument for the literary integrity of 2 Corinthians. Just to point out the aim of this bible, if that hasn’t been clear, the first page of text (1:1–12a) is undergirded with the same amount of page space dedicated to footnotes, most of which concerns information about letter writing and speeches in the ancient world. Most of the notes key in on a particular phrase from the text and provide a brief glimpse into the culture to help explain that particular concept, thought, etc. Since one could go on for quite a while talking about specific instances, since I was asked to focus on 2 Corinthians, I thought I’d look at a couple of passages in which cultural backgrounds could really illuminate the text and help the reader understand it, so I chose 2 Cor 5:1–10 and 12:2–4.
2 Cor 5:1–10 is a notoriously difficult passage to deal with because of several issues, one of which concerns the imagery Paul uses, e.g., the “earthly tent”, the “building from God”, being clothed with our “heavenly dwelling”, etc. Most see Paul here harkening back to the imagery of the wilderness wanderings, but the author of this section (of the CBSB, not 2 Corinthians!) makes mention of what Diaspora Jews and Greeks thought about the body, not necessarily if Paul is alluding to the OT imagery of the tabernacle. In the notes on vv. 2–4, the writer comments on what Jews, Greeks, and Romans thought about the unclothed body and how that factors in to the point Paul was trying to make. There are also notes about kingdom restoration (v. 5), different views of the resurrection (v. 8), and judgment (v. 10). In general, the notes here are helpful, so long as the reader remembers these are simply notes that will (hopefully!) spur them on to research particular issues more deeply outside of this bible.
The second passage, 2 Cor 12:2–4, concerns the account of the man caught up to the third heaven. Most of the notes for this section concern then-contemporary views of boasting, since it’s mentioned several times throughout this chapter (this issue also receives an article insert on the previous page). But here, unlike the previous passage, the editors have included an insert on the opposing page that gives a bit more background on the experience of the third heaven. Basically the article interprets the passage as Paul describing his own experience in the third person, a practice they state was employed by apocalyptic writers (does this assume, then, the writer of this insert sees Paul as an apocalyptic writer?) and offers a few thoughts on Jewish and Greek views of the heavens and how one experienced them according to ancient texts. So, much like the previous passage, the notes here are somewhat brief (as they must be), but remain helpful.
In sum, I think many will find this bible immensely helpful, so long as they don’t use it as a final authority on particular matters. The worlds of the biblical writers were as intricate and complicated as our own it seems and we can’t distill entire cultures and their practices down to a few footnotes, regardless of how many there are. Also, reading through the list of editors involved in this bible, many are from more conservative points of view, so this will obviously skew some things a certain way (I mention this not as a criticism, but merely an observation). You can read Pete Enns’ recent post about the CBSB where he points out some of these tendencies. However, let me reiterate that this is a wonderfully helpful study bible and will be of great benefit to all who use it. From the excellent overall design to its most important features—the information behind the accounts in the text—this bible is a grand achievement and will serve well those who wish to enhance their knowledge of the culture the biblical writers reflect.
For more information on this bible and some helpful info-graphics, head over to contextchangeseverything.com.
Αυτω η δοξα
In the wake of Peter O’Brien’s plagiarism ordeal, naturally many who have employed O’Brien’s works (myself included) with great benefit are now faced with a dilemma of sorts—is he so discredited that his works are no longer worthy of consultation and inclusion in our research or do we only omit those works that are in question?
I suppose the immediate answer is, no—one should not cite his works, at least those in the current discussion. Perhaps somewhere down the road, the full extent of O’Brien’s plagiarism will be disclosed and, then, perhaps his credibility could be rehabbed a bit. But what does that do to his other works? I suspect that his previous ventures will now be scrutinized for any instance of inappropriate use of others’ works and he will be forever suspect should he continue to produce articles/books/etc., assuming that he (1) continues to write and (2) any publisher/journal would accept his work.
Over the years I’ve tried to be VERY careful when it comes to attributing work to its original creator because plagiarism is one of those things that will quickly derail a career or, in my case, destroy any chance of having a meaningful career as a scholar. Also, if I didn’t come up with a paritcular idea or articulate something a certain way and someone else did, it’s only right to credit them—otherwise, it’s intellectual theft. When writing, the maxim by which I live is “When in doubt, put it in a footnote.”
It’s a real shame that this has happened, whether his deeds were intentional or simply careless, because O’Brien is a bright scholar with much to contribute to the field. Time will tell what will become of his reputation and career.
Αυτω η δοξα
Those who perpetrate violence from the shadows exemplify one thing (among many): cowardice.
My experience has been that you won’t land a teaching position without a terminal degree and teaching experience, yet, I can’t seem to get teaching experience because I don’t yet have my terminal degree. #frustration